All posts by Sam D. Burr

Developer Banned from Steam for asking friends to write reviews

Insel Games, has been banned from Steam and had all its games removed for apparently trying to ‘manipulate review scores’ for their latest indie game release Wild Buster: Heroes of Titan.

What exactly did they do to bring down the mighty hammer of judgement? Well, an email was leaked on Reddit which revealed the companies CEO asked employees to buy the struggling game and write a review.

If you are an indie developer, you are probably a little shocked right now, as I’m sure most indie developers who have made a game, have encouraged family and friends to buy the game and leave a review.

I can’t help but think this decision from Steam was a little heavy handed. No doubt larger studios are likely growth hacking the system in their own ways, not to mention the countless developers who exploited trading card to make profit without immediate repercussions.

It’s speculated that Steam put on the latex gloves for this situation due to the nature of the CEO’s language, which showed forceful coercion. In the email to his studio employees, the CEO wrote:

“I cannot force you to write a review (let alone tell you what to write) – but I should not have to. Neglecting the importance of reviews will ultimately cost jobs,” reads the email.

“So I am asking you to do either of the following: buy the game and present me with the receipt until Friday night, for which you will be reimbursed within 24 hours, or explain to me tomorrow why you do not wish to do this. I would like to discuss this individually and privately with each of you.”

In my opinion, it simply sounds like a desperate studio lead trying to keep food on the table of his employees.
Albeit passive aggressive, but then again it was 3am, and he is likely about to lose his studio.

Either way, to punish a whole studio, many of which may lose their jobs, if not the whole studio, purely on the actions of one person, is a little unusual.

Steam’s reply to the situation was:

“It has been recently reported on Reddit that the publisher for this game, Insel Games Ltd., have been attempting to manipulate the user review score for their titles on Steam. We have investigated these claims, and have identified unacceptable behaviour involving multiple Steam accounts controlled by the publisher of this game. The publisher appears to have used multiple Steam accounts to post positive reviews for their own games. This is a clear violation of our review policy and something we take very seriously.

For these reasons, we are ending our business relationship with Insel Games Ltd. and removing their games from our store. If you have previously purchased this game, it will remain accessible in your Steam library.”

Here are some responses from the community:

 

So why was Hello games not punished for No Man’s Sky’s false advertising, and deceiving thousands of gamers? Is it because Steam stood to make a lot of profit from No Man’s Sky? To my knowledge Hello Games, or ring leader Sean Murray to this day have not apologised, been held accountable, or even disciplined.

All I am saying is, Steam should not be swinging the ban hammer so freely without warning. Especially considering it appears the Insel studio staff didn’t even review the game in question, and if they did, it would have been half a dozen reviews that would have likely had no bearing on the games sales outcome. If you’re wondering how to move steam games to another drive, check this tutorial.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deiland… Who needs a farm when you have a whole planet!

With the huge success of endlessly fun Stardew Valley, the industry has seen a massive boom in charming farming simulator games. Deiland looks to be the next big indie title of this genre to hit the scene. From the hugely talented small team of developers over at ChiBig Studios in Valencia, Spain,  and with support from Square Enix Collective.

Taking inspiration from a mix of JRP’s such as Final Fantasy and classic simulator Harvest Moon,  Deiland is a single player fantasy RPG sandbox with elements of farming, building, crafting and questing.  The game takes place on a Deiland, a beautifully designed living planet featuring a variety of species of plant life, a night and day cycle and even the occasional meteor shower! Using magic and tools you must survive and prosper in Deiland, meeting a range of supporting characters along the way. As well as other external locations for you to travel and explore.

If that wasn’t enough, the game features an original soundtrack by the talented Paco Mitos, to help perfectly capture the emotion in the game.

If you think this games shows are much promise as we do, why not check out their Kickstarter campaign, where for just $15 you can back yourself an early access digital copy of the game for either PC, Mac or PlayStation 4.

JB

Blue Riband: Review

Turn back the clocks. Grab your life preserver and a fancy drink. Fairway tries to build the most luxurious, capable ship and sail it from England to New York before his opponent in today’s preview of Blue Riband.

Blue Riband is a two-player game set in an alternate past in which the players build and then race their luxury liner, either the Titanic or the Lusitania, across the Atlantic. I really wanted to call this ship building game a deck builder, but alas. It is a card-drafting and then racing game.

Initial Impressions

  1. We really liked building our ships. Like a lot. It was probably our favorite part and there’s probably a game in just that.
  2. There’s a fair amount of boards involved in this game: each player gets half of a giant board (representing one of the ships) to play cards. There’s also a board for the map across the Atlantic.  Components all seemed nice and well done.
  3. While the rulebook seemed long at first, and things like the placement rules seemed daunting, it was actually pretty straight-forward once the players got going.

How to play

In Blue Riband, players are first the architects and then the captains of a luxury ocean-liner in the golden-era of trans-Atlantic ocean travel. The object of the game is to garner the most points when the game ends by either building the most luxurious ship, the fastest ship, or some combination of both.  At the start of the game, players are given one of two ships: the Titanic or the Lusitania.  These are represented by large boards. The boards all have a series of card-sized spaces divided into a series of decks.  The background of the board is a depiction of the ship itself.

To start, a deck of design cards is shuffled and placed in a draw pile.  A starting tableau of five design cards is turned face up. Each player then draws a starting hand of six design cards. During the build/design phase, players will take turns doing the following: drawing one card from the design deck into their hand, optionally exchanging a card from their hand with one in the tableau, and then placing, facedown, one of the cards onto their ship.

There are five primary types of design cards: first class, second class, third class, safety improvements and engine cards.  When placing the design cards on a ship, there are a few rules which make sense including levels they can be placed on and how they might be arranged. For example, a ship can only have one first-class section and all the first-class cards must be adjacent — you can span levels only using a grand staircase card. Likewise, engine and coal design cards that provide fuel and speed must be placed on the lower levels.  There are also “validity” requirements for a ship that are reviewed at the end of the design phase. For example, a valid first-class section must have at least one stateroom and one amenity.

The design cards all serve a purpose.  Many of design cards improve the “luxury” rating of the ship. Others will generate revenue. Some will improve the safety of your ship (important in the race portion of the game). Others provide fuel to survive the ocean voyage.

Players essentially build their ships in secret over 20 or so rounds.  At the end of which, all of the cards are revealed.  If any sections break any of the placement or validity rules, they’re removed from the ship — for example, if you don’t have the requisite number of staterooms for your first-class section.

Once the ships are reviewed, the race portion of the game begins. Players collect coal according to how much coal storage they have. Players will take turns over a series of rounds captaining their ship from South Hampton, England to New York City.  Each round will have its own weather and cause obstacles (icebergs and u-boats) to move on the map.  Players will then take turns burning coal to move their ship.  Depending on the weather, the faster the ship moves the more treacherous and the more inefficient it gets.

During the voyage, icebergs, U-boats and fog can damage your ship.  When a player encounters one of these hazards, they’ll use a chart to compute damage based on the type of hazard, the ship’s speed, a roll of the dice, and the ship’s safety improvements. This is then compared to a damage chart and the damage is applied to the ship.  Ships can take up to four points of damage before sinking.  But with each level of damage, the ship becomes more inefficient and cards on the ship are lost (e.g., flooded).

The game ends in one of two ways:  both players reach New York City or one player doesn’t. In the case a player can’t or doesn’t reach New York City, the other player wins. For example, if a player sinks or runs out of coal. If both players reach New York City, the players count up their points. In this case, the player who gets to New York first gets 100 points, the player with the most luxurious ship (most stars) gets 100 points, each player earns 1 point per net revenue (your gross revenue less your operating expenses).

On the green

Blue Riband is an interesting mix of simulation and game. It had some things that played out well, but lacked the polish one might hope.

“Deck” Building.  Okay, it’s not a “deck builder” in the traditional sense. But the first phase of the game has players competing, in relative secrecy, the construction of their ships by drafting cards and placing them on boat decks. Building the ships, placing cards, and enjoying the fruits of that game play are definitely the highlight of Blue Riband. Not sure how to express this to the designer, but this should be much, much, much more then central part of the game.

Intuitive.  I don’t say this often, but considering the apparent complexity of all the things that happen in the game–some times with intricate rules and decision charts–it’s a pretty intuitive game. People just “got it” without a lot of rules checking. Similarly, with very limited exceptions, when we did confront the rules, it often matched our intuition.  The use of the “Grand Staircase” was the only one that wasn’t like that.

Damage & Flooding. Okay, so we enjoyed how the ship flooded. We liked how the game forced you to plan for the worst: if you took some damage, are you okay with losing your third class staterooms?  Or do you put a coal bunker down there?

Where it comes up short

Player-defeating mechanisms.  The top concern on everyone’s issues list was the number of ways in which this game helps the players fail. There are a few places where the guardrails are so low that players might not even get to “finish” the game. The most obvious one is that there’s no good way to know how much coal you’re going to need and, even if you knew, there’s no guarantee you’d get it.  Players can make it through the whole build phase and not have enough fuel to make it from England to New York.  There’s a whole bunch of ways this can happen: poor planning, poor estimation, poor card draws, poor card order, etc.  It seems somewhat irresponsible to create a situation in which a player can’t even really “finish” the second part.

Another example of this happens when building things like the first-class cabin.  It’s possible to start a first-class cabin and not actually be able to finish it merely because of things outside the control of the player.  It’s sort of like the Sashimi card in Sushi Go! but for lots of points.

Maybe these features are by design, but it’s hard to escape that many of these feel-bad moments in the game could have been designed around.

Art & Photography.  I’m a huge fan of deploying public domain works in games. The game made use of many on-point public domain photographs from ships of the era, including the Titanic, Lusitania, and Olympic. The collection itself seemed great.

But, ultimately, it’s rare to be able to just take photographs and paintings and deploy them without manipulation of some sort. This was no different.  Moreover, the presentation of those works detracted from the overall feel.  Many of the graphic design elements obscured and detracted from the photographs. The uninspired iconography, fonts, and graphic design were just too much of a distraction.

Ooblets… As if farming simulators weren’t cute enough!

From the team of two developers over at Gumberland, published by the guys at Double Fine, comes the exciting new farming simulator hybrid, Ooblets.  Noted by the developers as taking its inspiration from Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon and Pokemon, they appear to have successfully taken cute, timesed it by adorable and divided by charming to create this absolute gem. The game sees you not only farm your land but manage your household, run your own store and explore the land of Oob, all with the help of your Ooblets. Ooblets being the little creatures that you befriend and battle with, that’s where the Pokemon comes in. As expected the game has a whole range of customizable features for your character and farm.

The art style of the game is truly charming, using pastel colours to bring out a sense of harmony and tranquillity to your farming life. The creatures themselves are original in design, friendly creations that will make the farming simulator a true all-round original and creative gaming experience.

Ooblet is set to become available in early 2018 on PC and Xbox One. Being a must have for the new year, Ooblet is one to put on the calender.

Zoomaka: Review

Today, Fairway is a budding zoo entrepreneur trying to complete the most amazing zoo. That’s right! Step right up and see how Fairway does in this review of Zoomaka.

Zoomaka is a two- to five-player set-collection, card game in which players attempt to collect the right combination of animals to complete their zoo.

Initial Impressions

  1. The game shoots for minimalism and I think misses its mark. The muted color scheme doesn’t scream fun, kids game or exciting zoo-builder. The cards are mostly white, relying heavily on the borders and flat icons.  We were sometimes confused about whether the actual colors mattered on some of the action cards (entrances in particular).
  2. The rules amount to the common play cards, draw cards so teaching the game was easy and quick. Most players picked up the game pretty quickly.
  3. Outside the set collection (trying to complete “sections” of a zoo), the theme isn’t a great fit for the game. Why am I paying in zebra meat to go to someone else’s zoo? More about that below.

How to play

Zoomaka is a pretty standard card game which is played over a series of turns. The object of the game is to be the first player to complete four sections of your zoo.

At the start of the game, the deck of cards is shuffled and each player is dealt six cards.  There are essentially three types of cards: animal cards, action cards and setting cards. In common, each type of card also has a value. This value represents the value of the card itself when added to a zoo or when used to pay another player.

A bulk of the game is centered around the animal cards. Animal cards each assigned a category (or in some cases multiple categories) indicated by a little paw print in the upper right. There are a lot of different categories: Australian, reptile, bird, ape, magical, etc.  In addition, the number of icons shown on the card indicates the number of those cards needed to complete the section. The more icons, the more cards you’ll need to play.

The cards. The action cards come in a number of variations: action, reaction, and entrance. The action and reaction cards let you take special actions or stop someone from taking them. They’re played once and their effect is immediately resolved. For instance, some action cards let you see your opponent’s hand, take an animal from their zoo, draw more cards, etc.  The reaction cards are typically played in response to an action card (and out of turn) and allow the player to cancel an action or not pay a fee or something similar.  The entrance cards are played on player’s zoo section and cause other players to “pay” that player an amount equal to the total value of that zoo section.

Finally, the setting cards set a special universal rule that applies until it’s replaced. It could be that every players get extra actions or that certain animals can be played for free.

The game play. Play starts with a first player and continues clockwise until a player completes their fourth zoo section.  On a turn, a player typically plays three cards. Cards can be played either to the table or to your bank.

Animal and entrance cards played to the table are played face up in front of the player. Animals of the same category are played to the same section and their sum total values represent the value of that section of your zoo. A zoo section is complete when the section has the number of animals equal to the number of icons matching that section. For example, three forest animals played to a players section will complete the zoo section.

When a player plays an entrance card, the card is played on a section and the payment rule is performed.  In most cases, this means that other players must “pay” the total value of that section, that is the entrance cost. Other players must pay at least that amount from cards either in their own zoo (ah!) or from amounts they’ve played face down into their bank (discussed below).

Beyond animal cards, players play other action and response cards to the discard pile. These cards apply special rule. Action cards allow players to draw additional cards, poach animals from other zoos, etc. The reaction cards are typically played out of turn and do things like stop entrance fee payments, capture an animal just played by another player, etc.

Finally, the setting cards are played into a pile in the middle of the table.  The top card directs a special game-affecting rule.

One last point, each card has a value. If a player wants, they can play any of the cards to a player’s bank. These cards can then be used to pay off entrance fees instead of drawing from the cards in a zoo.

On the green

Set collection.  Zoomaka draws heavily on its theme and manages to introduce a large number of unique animal cards and divides them among a huge range of classes. There are more than 12 different “sections” that you can build. Adding those animals to your zoo to flesh out a section is definitely the heart of this game and it does it well. I mention the large number of suits below.

Player interaction.  This game doesn’t hide its strong take that features: they’re omnipresent. There were times in a few games where players had more action and reaction cards in their hands than actual animal cards. That said, the assortment of actions definitely hit the other players but never felt unfair or destructive.

Choices. The game actually does a good job of making every card and turn feel useful. Even if you can’t do anything “constructive” with the cards (like adding into your zoo), you can always play the card to your bank and save for the inevitable: having to pay another player. And while this is the case, we did feel like not enough of the game actually did the zoo-building (see below).

Play time & teaching time.  The game was pretty straight forward. Anyone who’s played any kind of family-oriented, take-that card games will get the gist pretty quickly. The only quirky mechanism was explaining why players should play cards to the bank — mostly to avoid having to sell of their zoo when someone played an entrance.

Where it comes up short

Frequency and suits.  In some ways, the sheer number of different sections is a bit daunting for new players. There’s lots of them. So when a players starts down one collection path, it’s not clear whether those cards will ever show up.  Consider that a good number of cards also get played face down into other player’s banks. Once they’re there, there’s no real chance to get a missing card out. Also, no player aid is provided to indicate the number of cards in each suit are in the deck.

So long as animal cards weren’t buried in banks, the game did provide ample opportunity to fetch cards from other players

So many non-animal cards.  On our first few games, players would repeatedly get hands full of everything but animal cards. When we separated out the cards, it became apparent why: more than half the cards are dedicated to things other than animals. And it wasn’t just a little more, it was appreciably more than half the cards. In some cases, you could go a few hands and not see an animal card. For a game about building a zoo, not getting animal cards to play is not a great feeling.

Let’s talk about minimalism & design.  I honestly didn’t know what to do with this feature. Some players found the minimalism as a non-issue, but most others noted that the overall design felt flat, boring. There’s always some room for debate about aesthetics, but for a number of reasons, I don’t think this design pulls off the minimalism. For instance, the borders of the cards were in a large rainbow of colors some of which played a role, but in other cases didn’t. The icons were flat, in a portion of the card covered by the fanning out of cards, and probably too small for their purpose. The animals didn’t feel “real” and were mere silhouettes and, oddly, a different color than their matching border. Finally, the font choice was confusing: a script font that was hard to read, not kid-friendly, and unthematic.

Beyond the aesthetic, the graphic design is completely unhelpful.  For example, circles around the values on some of the cards. We weren’t sure what the colors were intended to indicate. Similarly, the “wild” card animals had almost garish borders and coloring.

Last point: to the extent this is intended as a kids game, the washed out and muted palette wasn’t screaming kid-friendly game.

Confusing mechanics?  There were a few places the rules didn’t actually explain. For example, can you have more than one entrance on a section? Just one? If you play one that has icons for payment for various section types, do you only count the one that it was played on — the words on the card suggest otherwise?

Thematically confusing?  One thing that more than one player found odd was the whole payment mechanism.  Why am I, another competing zoo owner, paying another player when they play an entrance to a zoo section? And, more importantly, why do I have to sell off my animals to that player when they do?  It seems weird that I sell (or mortgage, I guess) my zebra card just to have the privilege of going to the other player’s woodland section.

Floatlands… A lowpoly pleasure!

Floatlands is the indie first-person survival genre at its very best. From the hugely talented team over at 6Pills Games in Slovenia. Floatlands is showing No Man’s Sky how it should be done!

With a singleplayer mode available at release and multiplayer to arrive after launch, Floatlands see’s you take control of a robot protagonist in what appears to be a truly stunning lowpoly procedurally generated world. Going up against other robots, you must battle your way through several environments, all filled with the variations of flora and fauna that you might expect from this style of game.

On your travels, you must gather resources, either from your environment, from destroying other robots or from exploring hidden areas such as caves. You will then use these resources to construct your own fortifications. Be them mere shacks or giant castles, you must then defend your new home from invaders, in a tower defence style manner.

Now, here’s the downside, Floatlands is still under development, with an expected Windows release in 2018. But fear not! If you think the game is worth checking out, the development team keep a very up to date development blog, which you can check out at your leisure here.

JB

Paratopic: The Definitive Cut review

 

Cough syrup makes you drowsy…

It’s 1996 and you’re fuzzing through the channels of your television receiver, trying to find something different and distant in the static. An image spasms into life through shrieks of broken sound glowing in the dark like a glass doorway to another world. A man is being detained – they want to know what’s on the tapes. A sudden feeling of paranoia engulfs your voyeuristic curiosity. Are you watching them or are they watching you? Scrambling to cut the power sustaining this glimpse into another dimension, you hesitate. The guard is trying to tell you something: ‘Looks like you’ve got an enemy, friendo’.

Paratopic is a strange video game. It’s like receiving a broadcast from another world half-glimpsed through a broken fever dream. It’s distinctly alien, yet carries this slightly unnerving whiff of familiarity about it. Somehow, the broken, low-poly reality it presents has a trace of human about it, like the faintest feelings of surrealism that belie a hallucination. Its horror is experienced through the unfamiliar shapes and sounds it projects onto your screen. The most terrifying thing of all is that somewhere, out there, alternate realities that look just like this might exist.

Paratopic

Projected as a half-remembered PS1-era experimental thriller, Paratopic’s low-poly, grainy visuals only add to its feeling of familiarity. What you’re viewing is a world grasping at reality through blocky representations of existence accompanied by muffled, unusual sounds. Its aesthetic somehow combines the visually unnerving quality of surrealism with the abstract drug-induced experiences invoked by psychedelic art – albeit in a slightly less colourful fashion. It would be easy to make pop culture references to works like David Lynch’s Twin Peaks with Paratopic, as it takes the mundane and sharpens it with a surreal edge that cuts through reality splitting it in half.

Layered on top of this visually provocative game is a transient soundtrack that morphs throughout the jarring cutscenes. Its ambient qualities often verge on minimalism with clear sci-fi inspirations and a surreal mixture of obscure samples that further establish its dark themes. This is an intertwined and explorative experience of sound and visuals that tell an abstract story of discovery through the unconventional subversion of social norms.

Like a tourist in a parallel universe, you’ll want to soak in the atmosphere of the peculiar places you visit. Your only form of communication comes through the use of the numbered keys to answer questions directed at you from a selection of responses. The language spoken by the people you interact with appears alien, although at times it stumbles closer to something more understandably human. Analogies can be drawn with Half Life’s G-Man in your engagement with some of the game’s entities, as you get the distinct feeling that what you’re talking to is something otherworldly that has taken on human form.

Paratopic

Through the use of dynamic cuts, the narrative is presented in a purposely incomplete manner. This forms a collage-like picture of a story steeped in mystery and world submerged in the paranormal. At the centre of this are the VHS tapes that you, illegally, distribute that offer people some kind of extrasensory experience. Bizarrely, for a video game at least, it has to be played through in one sitting. There is no option to save, but this makes sense in its desire to relate an experience to the player that must be digested as a whole package and not bite-size chunks.

The brilliance and horror of Paratopic are written between the lines in what it leaves unsaid or unexplained. It enlists the player’s own imagination against them to speculate on the true nature of the reality unfolding before them. It offers a fleeting glimpse into another world, an escapist pursuit into an immersive and atmospheric experience that will leave you questioning your own sanity. It’s undoubtedly not for everyone; this is a short and subversive video game that breaks away from the established traditions of the medium. If you do fancy a break from the norm, this video game representation of a creepypasta will leave you with a lasting impression.

Graveyard Keeper – Three tips for Beginners

Graveyard Keeper has been an exciting experience so far. I was drawn in by its gorgeous pixel art aesthetic and the promise of managing my cemetery, but like any wary gamer, I didn’t let myself get buoyed by the hype. Fortunately, the game has proved to be a pleasant surprise. I enjoy management sims, even more so if it has a medieval setting, and I think Graveyard Keeper has done an excellent job in making the occupation more fun than it sounds.

To start with, although your primary objective is to keep the graveyard spiffy and well maintained, while you harvest meat from fresh cadavers on the side, there is a lot more to be done as you progress. With each NPC introduced, you get saddled with more tasks. I’d admit that it gets tiring. Keeping track of quests, trying to recall where and when you can find NPCs or objects, can turn ugly quickly, especially when you’re still learning the ropes and figuring things out.

After fumbling in the dark in the beginning hours of my playthrough, I wish some things in the game were made more apparent from the start. Here are things I wish I knew before I started playing:

1. Sleeping saves the game

It’s embarrassing, but I once played for twenty minutes and exited thinking that the game would autosave. Luckily, I’d only just started, so I didn’t lose much progress. It pained me to earn back my lost momentum, but I’m thankful I learned the lesson sooner rather than later. Some gamers might scoff and think it’s stupid not to know from the get-go. In my defense, the only reason I shut off the game without bothering to check was because I had a piping hot pizza waiting in the living room.

Stardew Valley employs a similar save system, but in Graveyard Keeper, you have the ability to save anytime you’d like. It makes your in-game daily schedule flexible and less stressful. This is a definite positive; there might be moments where something essential crops up and you won’t have the luxury of waiting for the day to end before you can save. If you run out of energy, remember that jumping into bed for a quick nap is an option.

2. Where to find important resources

If you’re the type who likes to explore and don’t mind spending time looking for items or objects, you can skip this tip. The map isn’t exceptionally large, but it can be a hassle if you want something before the day goes dark. There are also some items that can’t be found, only made.

  • The swamp area behind your house contains iron deposits and slimes
  • Check your skill tree to unlock techniques to craft nails, iron parts, wood planks, etc.
  • Seeds can be bought from the farmer at the bottom of the wheat field
  • Buy seeds in fours. You can only plant them in fours.
  • Apples can be found near the Lighthouse

I played for two hours without realizing I could find iron behind my house. Don’t be me.

3. The ‘Known NPCs’ menu 

I’ve seen several user reviews on Steam saying they wished the game had a quest log. There isn’t a dedicated quest log, which is a little unfortunate. However, the quests you get can be viewed in the Known NPCs menu option, under their respective NPCs.

In addition, the days on which certain NPCs will appear can be found just on top of their character. It’s hard to notice it when you’re continually flipping through menus since they’re pretty tiny.

Overall, I hope these are helpful to anyone who’s just started the game. The learning curve is steep, but it gets a lot more fun once you get into the swing of things. If you’re thinking of getting the game, check out Justin’s review of it here!

INSOMNIA: The Ark gets September release date

Eight years in the making.

Get your rifles ready: Publisher HeroCraft and developer Studio Mono have announced that their 8-year project INSOMNIA: The Ark, will launch for PC via Steam on 27th of September.

This labour-of-love RPG has been the passion project of ten-person Studio Mono in Samara, Russia. It will feature more than 60 hours of content, as players explore a colossal space metropolis brimming with the secrets of a long-gone civilisation. It’s ticking all my sci-fi boxes guys.

Players will explore more than 70 unique locations, populated by 250 key characters uttering over 200,000 words of dialogue. The epic story can be completed alongside four NPC companions, and there will be 12 different endings at which the player can arrive, depending on their choices throughout the game.

Key Features:

  • Exploration is rewarding… and dangerous – Survive hunger, thirst, fatigue while searching for valuable technology and resources in over 70 unique locations. Pay attention – INSOMNIA‘s nuanced world can conceal unexpected quests from treacherous characters, as well as savage enemies and deadly hazards.
  • Personalized journey – Break free from character classes and unwanted grind with a flexible perk system combined with a large amount of craftable items and equipment. Choose your gear wisely – every armor and weapon type in the game has its own tactical virtues and shortcomings.
  • Сhoices matter – Navigate a non-linear storyline with ‘points of no return’ that encourage unorthodox approaches and 12 different story endings. Your character’s chosen background plays a role in how you interact with NPC’s and factions, as well as influences the outcomes of certain quests.
  • A rich universe – Experience a neo-noir world with elements of dieselpunk. Witness man-made apocalyptic landscapes imbued with a dark ambient soundtrack and echoes of a decaying civilization.

If this looks as promising to you as it does to me, you can pick up INSOMNIA: The Ark on Steam on 27th of September for $29.99 / £29.99 / €29.99.

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.

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.

You play as a boy named Allen, the recent resident of an orphanage run by a man that goes by Teacher. Allen is a blank protagonist, quiet, having lost his memory; all the kids have lost something, really. One night Allen finds himself beckoned into an alternate world ruled by a White Rabbit and a Cheshire Cat, the latter of which acting as a hostile trickster. This world connects to the dream worlds of the other kids, revealing their backstories in abstract and sometimes frightening ways, with the only way to escape being to explore the worlds and get the keys within.

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If the title and the names of the characters of this realm doesn’t clue you in, Alice mare draws from fairy tales for its story, with the backstories for most of the other characters being based on them. While there are some horror elements in the game, the interpretations of these stories don’t lean too far into the grimdark “fairytale but FUCKED UP” aesthetic that I feel is overdone; in fact, even though the story is dark in some areas, the true ending of the game is ultimately hopeful, if bittersweet. As for the interpretations of these stories, I think Letty and Joshua’s worlds are my favorite, having interesting takes on the stories they’re based on; on a personal note, I kinda relate to Joshua’s whole deal.

[Nf sbe gur svany jbeyq, Grnpure’f, gur tnzr fjvgpurf guvatf hc ol gryyvat na bevtvany fgbel juvyr tvivat fbzr jbeyq ohvyqvat gb gvr gur tnzr gbtrgure, rfgnoyvfuvat gur zrnavat bs KKKK gung er-pbagrkghnyvmrf fbzr guvatf. Juvyr guvf frpgvba bs gur tnzr jnf n avpr svany abgr, V jnf npghnyyl qvfnccbvagrq gung gur svany jbeyq jnf Grnpure’f engure guna Nyyra’f. V trg gung ur’f n oynax cebgntbavfg, fbzrguvat gung gur Purfuver Png npxabjyrqtrf, ohg nsgre fubjvat gur bgure xvqf jvgu gurve bja fgbevrf, V xvaqn rkcrpgrq gung lbh’q trg lbhe bja – gur bayl guvat lbh trg sbe Nyyra’f fgbel vf uvf perqvgf erry ba gur onq raqvat. Lbh pna nethr gung gur jubyr guvat vf Jbaqreynaq naq Nyyra vf vgf qr-snpgb Nyvpr, ohg lbh fgvyy qba’g xabj zhpu nobhg uvz.]

I’m not saying that Alice mare should tell everything to you – in fact, I appreciate that the game’s true ending is a sort of open-ended thing, but that thing up in spoilers was something I’d have liked to know more about.

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that’s it. that’s the game.

Alice mare‘s gameplay is pretty standard adventure game stuff, with you walking around and solving puzzles to advance. Most of the puzzles are pretty basic and not that hard. The only sore spot I had was the fourth world, Stella’s, which was pretty much mostly mazes that didn’t even look cool and a part where you’re just blindly checking graves for items without any indication they’re there. Otherwise, all standard.

[Gur cnguf gb gur raqvatf ner nyfb fgnaqneq, jvgu lbh cvpxvat bar bs lbhe sryybj qernzref, jvgu gur rkprcgvba bs gur gehr raqvat naq onq raqvat. Gb trg gur gehr raqvat lbh… unir gb whfg svaq funeqf fpnggrerq npebff gur jbeyqf, jvgu ab npghny punyyratr rkprcg sbe gur snpg gung zvffvat gurz zrnaf zvffvat gurz sberire. Vg’f fvzcyr – fb fvzcyr gung vg srryf xvaqn harnearq, naq V jvfu gung gurl pbhyq or npdhverq va n jnl gung npghnyyl ersyrpgf gurve checbfr. Va pbagenfg, gur onq raqvat vf uneq gb trg vs lbh qvqa’g xabj nobhg vg orsberunaq. Lbh whfg unir gb nafjre nyy bs gur Purfuver Png’f dhrfgvbaf gur fnzr jnl, juvpu fbhaqf fvzcyr, ohg pbafvqrevat gung bgure punenpgref serdhragyl tvir lbh gur fnzr qvnybthr bcgvbaf jvgu ab pbafrdhraprf, lbh’yy cebonoyl guvax abguvat bs vg.]

There’s also a Tetris- I’m sorry, NuTetris – minigame that works alright, though not as smooth as the actual thing. Also, gotta say, having a goofy NPC show up to offer you a Tetris minigame kinda breaks the atmosphere.

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The art of the game is pretty nice, with the weakest aspect for me being the mapping. The cute character sprites are contrasted with their more detailed dialogue portraits, with different expressions as well as sprite changes for story events. Outside of Alice mare‘s sprite work, the game also uses pen drawings for the journal pages that tells the characters’ backstories and for the credit sequences, which I really love because they give this aesthetic of a storybook that’s not quite right.

The game’s music adds to the storybook feel with a mix of music box-like tunes and slow remixes of old public domain songs. The exception to this is the Cheshire Cat’s theme, which is harsh and dramatic to reflect the menacing mood. My favorite track though is the credits theme, which is a piano melody with a bittersweet feeling, which is rather fitting for the game’s endings.

It was interesting to play this game after LiEat. Alice mare feels like it sets up the backbone of those games, with Miwashiba getting more stylistic with the art and introducing cutscenes, growing comfortable enough with the engine to introduce a battle system (even though I honestly found it unnecessary). If I were to compare the two, while I liked LiEat more in general, I liked Alice mare more as a concrete experience, as Alice mare tries to tell its main story over one game instead of three.

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Alice mare is a really short, standard adventure game that’s dressed up in a storybook aesthetic with a dream world that tells some interesting interpretations of fairy tales. No matter where I go, I always end up playing these games about exploring dream worlds, huh?  It’s not high quality and there’s definitely a story aspect I wish they could have delved into, but still, a good time, and for $2.99, you can’t complain too much. Of course, you could always hunt down the original freeware version of the game, but I’m all about supporting developers here. Alice mare apparently has an official novel made by the creator, so maybe that could resolve my issues? I don’t know, but vgperson’s also made an unofficial translation of that, so if you’re interested in Alice mare, maybe check out as well.