Plug & Play and Games & YouTube

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Plug & Play is a game by Michael Frei and Mario von Rickenbach, based off of a short film the former did that can be watched here. “Based off of” might be the wrong phrase, though, as the game is essentially an interactive version of the film.

Plug & Play is about connections, whether they’re created or severed. Humanoid creatures with plugs and sockets for heads interact, trying to find love sometimes, other times acting hostile to each other. The interactive nature adds a layer to the game’s themes that the animation lacks, with you acting as a facilitator, a matchmaker in a weird world.

…After playing this, I realized that I’d have a hard time writing about this. This is mainly because the game is pretty much 10 minutes long. To go in-depth would ruin your own experience playing it. In fact, by linking the short film, I fear that you’d be turned away from the game to watch the film, since you’re essentially getting the same takeaways.

But that line of thinking led me to thinking about people watching other people play this and YouTube in general.

Plug & Play, even if it wasn’t intended to be, is YouTube let’s player bait. It’s got the bizarre imagery for people to react to, it has that subtle horror atmosphere for them to be comically scared by. Look the game up on YouTube and you’re guaranteed to get a bunch of thumbnails of let’s players in full “what the hell is this” mode (as well as videos for plug and play consoles).

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Let’s plays normally act as advertisements for games to a let’s player’s audience, but, when it comes to linear narrative games, it might be a different story. With games focused entirely on narrative and nothing else to engage with, potential players might instead turn to watch a playthrough. This became a sore point for the developers of That Dragon, Cancer, who felt that let’s plays hurt the game’s profitability, believing that many are satisfied merely watching a let’s play than getting the game and experiencing it for themselves. Looking Plug & Play up on YouTube, you can see videos on that game having millions of views (like Markiplier, above) – but you can probably guess that actual sales are less than one percent of the views for a single video.

Another thing that I feel works against games like Plug & Play is Steam’s refund policy. The policy, if you don’t already know, allows people to refund games if they’ve played for less than 2 hours. While this policy lets people demo big games, the policy gets abused when it comes to shorter games. This sort of thing infamously cropped up with the narrative game Firewatch, with people abusing the game’s short length to finish it and get refunds – even if they enjoyed it. Of course, with Plug & Play being about ten minutes long, it’s easily suspect to being refunded, another potential victim of the value of games being cheapened.

Reading through this, you might be wondering: is the game worth it, do I think it’s worth it? Well, Plug & Play is inexpensive and I do think it’s interesting. However, ignoring the let’s plays that easily show off the entire game, there’s the fact that simply watching the original short movie cheapens your personal experience with the game.

But that led me to thinking: has the original animator seen money for the original Plug & Play animation? It was acclaimed, yes, but did he ever get financial gain from it? Surely, he could put the short film up on YouTube and rake in views from crowds interested in this kind of stuff.

However, back on the subject of YouTube screwing people over, there’s little appreciation for animators. The Algorithm(TM) favors videos with long watch times, which puts animators at a disadvantage, as long videos mean way more work for them. Changes in YouTube monetization at the beginning of the year didn’t help things either, only allowing channels to be monetized if a collective of 4000 hours was watched within 12 months. Chances are, the only animators that can see success in this system were already successful to begin with.

The way I see it, the game adaptation provides an avenue for the animation to be supported, exposing it to new audiences that might otherwise not have seen it. According to Steam Spy statistics, Plug & Play is owned by 100,000 – 200,000 users, which is still respectable, even if there’s a huge disparity between that and YouTube views on videos of Plug & Play. Of course, it helps that it was previously part of a Humble Bundle and it is still pretty cheap – and come on, you’d have to be pretty stingy to refund $3.

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To summarize: playing Plug & Play somehow led me to thinking about how these big content platforms suck ass for small creatives. The game’s interesting, yeah, but I think Plug & Play‘s place in this online culture that can easily devalue it is also interesting. Ultimately, I feel that people should support interesting animation/games any way they can in a brutal web hellscape filled with gamers that flip their shit over puddles.

Danmaku Unlimited 2

Writing about this was on the back burner for a while. Like, a long while. I even recorded a video back when my computer could actually handle that well. But then my computer had some weird nonsense happening and I kept getting distracted by stuff, you know how it is. It was only recently that I started looking at my backlog of stuff I had that I could play for this blog that I remembered that I should have written about Danmaku Unlimited 2 by now.

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Danmaku Unlimited 2 is by Doragon Entertainment, a one man indie studio. As the name indicates, it’s a bullet hell game. It’s a generic title, but thinking about it, it’s rather fitting.

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Alice mare

The Cheshire Cat appears before you, making snide comments and mocking you as you go. “Alice,” he keeps calling you, as he does to everyone, because all people are the same to him. You dismiss his nonsense and he disappears, with the inevitable promise of coming back to harass you later. You turn your focus to the doors before you and they beckon you to delve into the dreams of their occupants.

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Alice mare is a game made in Wolf RPG Maker, made by Miwashiba, translated by vgperson. I previously played Miwashiba’s LiEat games, which I thought were okay adventure games with a charming style. If the dates for the original freeware games on Vector is accurate, Alice mare was actually made before the LiEat games, so I tried going into this without preconceptions from playing them.

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Ara Fell

I’ve had this game on my backlog for a while now from some hedonistic RPG Maker spending spree. I got Helen’s Mysterious Castle from that and thought it was cool but found the ending to be really unsatisfying and I also got Artifact Adventure, which, I’ll be blunt, holds the dishonor of being one of the few games on here I just didn’t like. I didn’t spend any time on Ara Fell for months, perhaps due to my disappointments.

At least until recently! I was listening to a podcast hosted by one of my friends’, the Sockscast, and they briefly talked about Ara Fell, which finally ignited my interest in digging into this game to see if I had the same thoughts they had. So, without further ado:

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Ara Fell is by Stegosoft Games, released in 2016, one of those indie RPGs trying to evoke old 16-bit JRPGs in a sincere fashion, rather than one of those indie RPGs by condescending western devs believing that they can “fix” a genre based on their limited experiences. Ara Fell actually has a long history to it, originally made years ago as an overly ambitious project, to briefly being revived in RPG Maker XP and eventually getting picked back up and reworked for a formal commercial release after RPG Maker 2003’s official localization.

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LUCAH: Born of a Dream

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Nightmares advance toward Lucah, abstract limbs prepared to strike. Lucah chants a mantra and takes a fighting stance more befitting of the situation. They break through a nightmare’s guard and their familiar companion shoots it apart as a finisher. The nightmares are gone.

The darkness creeps up behind Lucah, urging them forward. A corruption grows within them, but it’s still too early for them to worry.

They walk over to a statue depicting a divine mother and present her with her sword. The world shifts. The statue has become a Harbringer with the same energies as the nightmares, striking with scythe like swipes that mimic Lucah’s own. They brace themself to stand against the horror.

But Lucah is not strong enough. They were foolish to even try.

And so, you, as Lucah, are unceremoniously tossed to the side and you descend, further into a world of nightmares and despair.

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Lucah: Born of a Dream is a game made by melessthanthree, led by Colin Horgan. Lucah is the result of what happens when you plop a character action game into a survival horror setting, where your best tools against an unrelenting world is flashy combat.

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Running out of Space – a few Ludum Dare 42 games

It’s that time of the year again, it’s Ludum Dare baby!! The latest Ludum Dare, which ran from August 10 to 13, had the theme of “running out of space,” which I thought left a lot of room for interpretation. So, I checked out a bunch of games and here are a few that stuck with me!

Edgy Fantasy Battle Deluxe

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You know how Sephiroth had that really cool Supernova move that blasted through the entire solar system, only to do negligible damage? Edgy Fantasy Battle Deluxe, by Yanrishatum, Zeusdex, Theodote, and Shess, is what happens when moves like that actually had consequences!

The entire game has endgame JRPG protagonists facing off a “villain,” using devastating limit break like magic to fuck her shit up. To do this, you have to sacrifice land tiles to perform your feats of destruction. The game is sort of half puzzle game, with you choosing batches of land to sacrifice and you have to make efficient decisions, lest you’re unable to get a patch to sacrifice and have to make do with your (comparatively far weaker) normal attacks.

The game is an interesting idea and I like the models, they’re very reminiscent of an early PS1 RPG. I think that if the team ever returned to this idea, they could use more varied battlefields or maybe even randomized battlefields for your party to draw magic from.

TrackBlasters

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TrackBlasters, by  Noojsan, Kokonaught and My Sweet Whomp, has you driving around a racetrack for the best time. The catch is that for some reason your car likes to leave bombs behind as it goes, blowing Bomberman patterns into the track that you could fall into on the next lap. The game thus becomes about careful driving, trying to go as fast as you can while navigating to ensure that you still have space to drive through on your next go-around.

I mean, you could always drive off-road so that bombs could explode harmlessly away from the main track, but where’s the fun in that?

It’s a simple and neat idea, though it’s a bit frustrating that the game sets your respawn point far from where you fall. Though, given that you’re destroying the land as you play, I understand how it’d be hard to account for spawn points.

The Flesh Pit

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The Flesh Pit is a game brought to us by FrankieSmileShow. I previously looked at A Growing Adventure, his entry for Ludum Dare 39 that I really liked and after missing his last few Ludum Dare stuff, I was excited to hop into this one.

You are fighting for the glory of the Flesh God and it demands meat! This is a score-attack game where you fight waves of enemies to accumulate their meat. However, the meat isn’t just shoved into some hyperspace inventory, but it manifests physically, enemies exploding into chunks of flesh, propelling you around and making the arena claustrophobic. It’s kinda nauseating if you think about it. Given the backing sound, this would probably be a horror game if it weren’t for the grotesque silliness/cuteness of the enemy designs.

I think the game needs some polish, because I feel that knockback is too small (to the point that using knives feels like a liability) and jumping feels iffy, but what’s there is pretty cool and I appreciate that there’s different weapon types and I like the enemy designs, even if they’re not fully detailed.

TINY TOWNS

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TINY TOWNS is a city building puzzle game by Bearish. You are given limited space, urging you to make the most of the room given to you to build a town that fulfills all of the objectives.

Like all puzzle games, it starts out easy. Sure, just gotta plop the garbage dump and electric plant over here and put all these houses and trees there, easy. But then the objectives just get more demanding. Put down all these houses? Got it. Oh, they’re too close to the power plant? Okay, let’s plant some trees and – oh jeez, there’s no more room for road. It’s all simple, but the game tries to run with the most it can with its rules.

Out of the Ludum Dare 42 games I looked at, this one might be my favorite. It’s polished, aesthetically pleasing, doesn’t really have major flaws and it keeps throwing puzzles at you. Definitely a must play.

You May Live

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You May Live is by AnlaXix, Draigius, and SachaY, mixing management game with moral dilemmas. You are the chief doctor of a field hospital low on supplies during the midst of a war and you have limited space for patients, either because of lack of beds or because lack of funds to accept more.

Patient requests come in, with a brief description on how long they’re going to stay and whatever funds they bring. You can expect the moral dilemma of “person is heavily injured but has nothing to offer,” but you can also expect getting random assholes that you probably wouldn’t want to serve but hey, they have money on them.

I feel that the game being so quick to play through kinda mitigates whatever emotional impact it has. Like, some comments compare this to Papers Please, but the game lacks those long stretches of time for the impact of your decisions to set in or the hoops that you have to go through to make a confirmation or denial that makes your decision feel more important. For me it’s one of those things that couldn’t reach its full potential on account of a time limit, but you know what, I still appreciate what it was trying to go for.

There is Never Enough Space

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There Is Never Enough Space is by Jamie Rollo, who decided to tackle the subject of the jam through multiple minigames. Navigate through this space! Fit things into this confined space!

If your microgame busting are excellent, the game will be very brief, but it’s a sweet time, and as a WarioWare appreciator, it’s always good to see games like this. Cute art, fun times, no complaints from me.

Owned By

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Owned By is a visual game poem by etrohar and arctic_allosaurus. You roam around a metaphorical mindscape while a voice demands that you accept your role in life. Aside from the close shave chases from manifestations of judgement, the jam’s theme is embodied by the idea of being restricted by society into fitting a certain role, which is an interesting narrative take on the theme.

The sketchy art style lends an interesting atmosphere. Getting caught by the mindscape’s manifestations gives you a lovely scene of a horrible eye opening up and staring at you, with more eyes staring you down for every time you’re caught, which is, well, actually kinda creepy. Sure, the gameplay is simple, but, it’s one of those games where the game part is a vehicle for everything else, if that makes sense.


That is only a mere handful of games made for the jam. In fact, there were 3066 submissions for this jam between the main game jam and the compo, which is just wild to me. Of course, there’s plenty of time to check out games beyond the mere handful I’m presenting to you, as the rating period ends September 4, so check those out and remember to give some votes to the games you enjoyed!

CONQUEST

Space is the glorious new frontier for mankind, according to billionaires that’d rather fuck off to space than to spend less than one percent of their wealth fixing things on Earth. Space exploration is a common sci-fi game topic, players taking off to the stars, checking out cool planets and fighting aliens, going after the romanticized ideal of space travel that’s been ingrained in our popular culture.

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However, Conquest, by Outlands, is not that ideal. You don’t share in the glory of exploring and settling on worlds, like people than stan for Elon Musk thinks he’ll allow them to do. Rather, you’re just a laborer, doing menial work while the cool spaceships fly above you.

You walk around a low poly environment, geometric structures towering above you, an overall abstract aesthetic defining the alien world. However, you’re not exploring, you’re just doing your job in the limited space afforded to you. What is the purpose of this area? For what great purpose was this land settled for?

Commercial burials, of course. You work under Deep Space Burials, maintaining a deep space graveyard, this strange land just being used as a commodity. Graves dot the land, with electronic screens broadcasting names and final words, which is some impractical high technology crap that reflects the “innovation” that Silicon Valley is always striving for. Of course, being impractical, these screens glitch out and you have to fix them as one of your duties.

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You can read the graves, because really, it’s not as if you have anything better to do. The graves mention great struggles, new lifeforms, but as an average joe, it’s insignificant to your working life. Sometimes the epitaphs are funny, some dashing, but some of them are reflective of what space imperialism has done. One grave curses the constant need for expansion at the expense of taking care of what’s already there, while another mentions that war against and conquering of an alien civilization screwed their society over. Even the planet you’re on is a victim of imperialism, subjugated to the whims of commercial interests.

And as for you? You’re expendable. You are a mere Intendant working the graves, many others having come before you. In fact, looking at the graves of the Intendants shows that none of them are properly named, just numbered. Maybe you’re an android? That’s apparently a thing in this universe, but regardless, it showcases how disposable you and others like you are to the march of “progress.” If Intendants were androids though, Conquer is probably a more sincere android story with a social message than Detroit: Become Human.

Anyway, Conquest is a short contemplative walkaround game. This was a bit of a downer, so I promise to write about something more happier next time.

SUFFER (demo)

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It’s been a while, but I’m finally looking at another game in my inbox. Today we’re looking at the demo for SUFFER, by Anarchy Softworks, a one-man studio.  The title screen might not give the best first impression, being some busty ninja lady on a fuzzy background, but stick with me here.

What is the story in SUFFER? There really isn’t one. SUFFER prides itself in being a retro styled shooter, just sorta throwing you into a demon infested world. Thematically, anarchy is the name of the game, mixing in anti-capitalist imagery with cops being a frequent enemy alongside the demons, while WWII era propaganda posters from all sides of the war dot the land to set up a general anti-authority atmosphere. But it’s also a game that appeals to the more generic notion of anarchy, which is to revel in chaos and fuck shit up.

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Facets

Alyssa lived her life under the oppression of a magic wielding evil empire and watched as they took everything from her. And so, she rose up against the empire, fighting in memory of those she lost, their hearts united as one against the empire of the Guardianship! Alas, Alyssa has been captured by Guardianship goons and they’re trying to wipe her mind – but as soon as they let down, she’ll harness the power of friendship and defeat them! Truly, she is an ideal JRPG heroine!

It’s a shame that you’re playing as the villains in this story.

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Facets is a game made in RPG Maker 2003 by John Thyer, where you are the JRPG villain. You may ask me, “Dari, aren’t you friends with John?” Well, I am, but he playtested my game Fishing Minigame 2 and gave honest criticism, so I thought it’d be fair to do the same.

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Door (Demo Version)

 

 

Door is a game by svgames, with a demo up on itch.io and a full version of the game available on Steam for $6.99. This article is based off my impressions from the demo.

You start out surrounded by four doors, though you can only go through two of them for the demo. Each door leads to a set of doors with a basic puzzle to figure out which one to go through, and that one leads to another set of doors and so on and so forth. This is wrapped up in a colorful, simple environment with atmospheric music.

Puzzles start out simple, with panels saying stuff like “go through X door” and the doors will have placards. It’s initially straightforward stuff like simply going through the door with 1 on it when told, then going through a door with a circle on it if given the same hint for a set of doors with shapes on them. Later puzzles are more complicated, requiring you to pay more attention to the environment.

Going into this game, you may expect that it’s one of those puzzle games where you build up knowledge from previous puzzles to solve later ones. However, the puzzles in Door are largely self-contained or feel like puzzles that can stand on their own without the others. For example, there’s one puzzle with multiple signs, with the first saying that some signs lie. This sets up the expectation that you may have to figure out which signs tell the truth in the future. Turned out though, this rule only ever applied to this puzzle and all the others ones are legitimate.

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Like what the fuck

The problem of puzzles being self-contained is that it leads to some puzzles with solutions that seem to come out of left field. A notable one is the puzzle whose hint is “door number ERROR,” whose answer is to always go through the fourth door, which seems like a nonsensical progression from the previous doors and in fact seems nonsensical in general, because there isn’t much in the room that hints at the answer being the fourth door. There were some puzzles that I thought were nice, but they get mixed in with some annoying puzzles, some of them giving little to go off of.

Part of my annoyance stemmed from the fact that picking the wrong door locks you off from moving forward or back, forcing you to reset at the beginning of the chain of puzzles. Locking the path ahead is something I get, but the game keeping you from going back is annoying because you can’t go back to re-examine your choice or surrounding environment to see why you got it wrong.

I actually did think about getting the full version of the game, though. I thought that maybe some of these issues were addressed in the full game and $6.99 felt like a fair price for a puzzle game and hey, I need to play more puzzle games. However:

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I don’t know if it’s a false positive or not, but my computer is already crummy enough, so I’m not taking my chances.

From looking at Steam, the general consensus on Door is mixed, which is a consensus that I agree with. If you plan on picking up a puzzle game, I recommend checking out the demo to figure out if this is something you’d be down for.