Category Archives: mmm Steam sale

Varied in content but generic in title

So the Steam Summer Sale is here again, and like the last Winter Sale they’ve come up with a zany idea: discount a bunch of games for a couple of weeks. No daily deals, votes, flash sales, minigames or what-not, just some trading cards available for browsing your Discovery Queue. From a consumer-buying-games point of view I think this is sensible; no agonising over whether to buy something now or wait in case there’s more of a discount at some point in the future, and no need to worry that you missed the 17 minute window when Awesome Game Simulator was available for 72p instead of £59.99. As someone who got quite caught up with some of the previous events, though, it’s mildly disappointing from the Steam-as-a-game-in-itself perspective.

Still, there are new trading cards, and what do cards make? Badges! I’ve done my usual sale routine of digging through any games that still have trading card drops and leaving them running in the background, selling off duplicate cards, and using the resulting funds to buy a few more cards to finish off other sets. Firing off buy and sell orders like some striped-jacketed trader I built up a highly impressive portfolio worth almost 64p, until I blew half of it on XCOM 2 cards. Considering the market volatility caused by all this EU referendum palaver I was briefly tempted to switch my ISA investments over to Steam trading cards, but apparently banks won’t take a Total War: Warhammer badge as security for a loan, even if it is Level 7.

I’ve also been diligently browsing my Discovery Queue, and good lord but there’s a lot of crud on Steam. This isn’t a massive surprise, Sturgeon’s Revelation and all that, but since the introduction of the feature Steam has showed me around 500 games so far and is well into the 90%:

“Hi! I’ll be your Discovery Queue for the day, let’s take a look at some Exciting and Amazing games that I really think you’re going to be Amazingly Excited about! OK, let’s see, first off the pile it’s… War Shoot Man Gun, an utterly bland FPS with no stand-out features whatsoever, how about it, huh?”

*clicks Next*

“No? Oh. OK, I see you’ve played RPGs, I bet you’ll love Dungeon Of The 8-Bit Quest For Sword, lovingly crafted with retro-graphics totally as a stylistic decision and not because it’s a ten minute copy and paste job to churn out any old dreck!”

*clicks Next*

“Boy, tough crowd. All right, you’re bound to want this: Screenshots Of Scantily Clad Anime Girls! No idea what genre it is, if it even has a genre, but the screenshots prominently feature scantily clad anime girls. Phwoar, eh? Eh? The whole thing looks creepy but it’s all right, it’s probably ironic or something so that’s fine. Absolutely perfect for anyone not aware that there are photographs of actual breasts on the internet if you like that sort of thing. Apparently. So I’ve been told.”

*clicks Next*

“Huh. Got it! Block Craft Dig Build, a blocky game where you dig stuff up and then, hold on ‘cos this is gonna blow your mind: build things.”

*clicks Next*

Block Build Shoot Dig Gun, subtitle (Because Apparently The Lawyers Got All Upset When We Called It ‘Minecraft With Guns’)?”

*clicks Next*

Blood Grim Stab Dark Spooky Times, nail-biting survival horror?”

*clicks Next*

Spooky Dark Creepy Blood Spurt, nail-biting horror survival?”

*clicks Next*

The IKEA VR Experience?”

*clicks Ne…* “Hang on… IKEA?”

“Yes! Consumers can use the app to explore one of three differently-styled kitchen room settings. The user can change the colour of cabinets and drawers with a click.”

“That’s the most interesting thing you’ve shown me so far. Oh god, I’m so old. Remind me to have a another look at that after I’ve finished the queue.” *clicks Next*

“OK, next on the list is Some F2P Online Thing You Heard About A Couple Of Years Ago But Never Got Around To Checking Out

“Is it any good?”

“Reviews say: no, not really.”

*clicks Next*

Old Game Remastered, an HD remake of something you liked when it first came out but don’t have the time or inclination to replay now even if the graphics are nicer?”

*clicks Next*

Noun Online, a unique MMO featuring adjective verbing?”

*clicks Next*

“Well there you go, that’s the end of this Amazing list of Exciting games. Join us tomorrow when we’ll repeat this tiresome charade, I know you’re only here for the trading card. Still, you could probably get a blog post out of it if nothing else. Soupy twist!”

“Soupy twist.”

Look out there’s a monster coming

“Summer’s here”, as Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Martha Reeves and quite possibly one or more Vandellas sang, “and the time is right for computer games offered for purchase on the Steam store to be discounted in the street”. For the last few years, the actual sale bit of the Steam summer sale has been the least interesting aspect, the novelty having faded with constant offers, discounts, bundles and the like. I did pick up Space Engineers this year, thanks to Tim and Jon’s intergalactic adventures, to add to the list of stuff that I really must get around to sometime, but that’s been about it.

More interesting, for fans of making meaningless numbers go up, are the bits and pieces that Steam puts in around the sale, events, trading cards, contests and what-not. This year, it’s an incremental game, essentially “click on monsters lots!” It’s quite fun, for what it is; I did get into CivClicker a while back (the textual interface doesn’t obviously look like a game, if, hypothetically, you’re after something to do on your lunch break at work), incremental games can be quite diverting. Naturally a meta-game soon evolved around Steam as people first started using various means to automatically click, then poked a bit more deeply into the mechanisms of the game to produce browser scripts to automatically execute the optimal strategy, finally reaching level ONE! HUNDRED! MEEEEEELEEEEON! today, which appears to be the upper limit.

More interesting still, for sufficiently small values of “interesting”, is the monetisation around the game this year: there isn’t any. You get trading cards just for joining in, a Steam badge based on the level you reach, and that’s about it. It’s quite a contrast to last year, when everyone was arbitrarily assigned to one of five teams, and granted points for crafting badges n’ stuff. Items were available to increase points, switch teams and suchlike, and these could be bought and sold in the Community Market for actual money. It must have been a fascinating psychological and economic experiment; there were prizes, the (rather small) chance of winning games from your wishlist, but as this year’s event shows people hardly need an incentive to make numbers go up, and as last year’s event showed at least a few don’t mind spending actual money to do so. I’m not sure if I should glad that Valve just made a fun little diversion this year with no marketplace silliness, or worried that I’m glad that merely not creating an ethically dubious event seems like a positive move.

Mind you, conspiracy theorists have come up with a plausible explanation: as the game involves clicking your mouse button as much as possible, it’s a cunning ploy to cause users to break their mice, and thus order a new Steam Controller to use when playing games. Hmm, tempting…

However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results

Thanks to the good ol’ Steam sale I snapped up a bargain “Gold Edition Upgrade” for Civilisation V with a bunch of DLC and the Gods & Kings expansion, so if I ever get around to finishing my ongoing campaign (where I’m feeling slightly guilty about bombarding enemy cavalry with MLRS units) I can kick off another bout of world domination with even more options. The addition of trading cards to Total War: Shogun 2 also prompted me to get that patched up, and dust off another campaign that ground to a halt last year sometime. Today I picked up another umpteen hours of strategy action with the Wargame bundle; I was a fan of R.U.S.E. so I’d had my eye on the imaginatively titled series for a while, especially after a positive review from hex-maestro Tim Stone of Wargame: AirLand Battle (presumed tagline: “It’s a wargame with both air and land battles”; I hope Eugen expand into other genres and release Fightinggame: Cartoon Characters Punch Other Cartoon Characters, or Drivinggame: Cars Drive Around Trying To Drive Around Faster Than Other Cars).

It’s something of a cliché to have a Steam library backlog longer than the average human lifespan, but when Galactic Civilisations II Ultimate Edition popped up in a Flash Sale I had to resist, otherwise the only strategy game I’d ever play would be trying to allocate the time and bandwidth resources needed to download and play a library full of strategy games…

The only time I ever enjoyed ironing was the day I accidentally got gin in the steam iron

It’s summer (apparently), so it’s Steam sale time. This year’s event has been going for a week now, but like last year I’ve generally resisted temptation, even without lashing myself to a mast or stuffing cheese in my ears. I’m not sure if it’s just my perception or a genuine shift but cheap games hardly seem particularly notable now, columns like Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s Bargain Bucket turning up sales from the various digital providers, pay-what-you-want bundles and the like on a weekly basis. There’s also the move of “free to play” from murkier backwaters to the mainstream (even if it’s still tainted in the eyes of some), making a plethora of shooters, MMOGs and more available for the princely sum of no pence. Unlike a few years back, “it was a bargain” isn’t really a good enough reason on its own any more.

Another factor is that previous sales, especially those involving large bundles, have resulted in many of us having Steam Libraries of Guilt, lengthy lists of games we really must go back and finish sometime… or indeed go back and *start* sometime; someone’s even come up with a nifty analysis tool to check the stats. I have been checking out this year’s daily Steam offers, something the Android mobile app is ideal for when out and about, or even when stuck at a loading screen in another game. There have been flashes of temptation (“75% off new powersets and end-game content for DCUO so it’s only a fiver?”), but rationalism has held sway (“Total time racked up with the game so far is about 37 minutes, extrapolating from that it’s unlikely I’ll need any end-game content until the year 2072. And then only if no more games are released in the meantime.”) I have bought one game, though; you probably haven’t heard of it, it’s a really obscure little title, goes by the name of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Just need to find the time to start it up now…

Running out of Steam

Steam’s Summer Camp event has been going for almost a week, and despite being a sucker for a bargain (or possibly just a sucker), especially when it comes to Steam, I haven’t bought anything yet. Being fully hooked on LotRO and World of Tanks at the moment I don’t have the vulnerability to a shiny new game that MMOG burnout often causes, which could well be a major factor in that, but nothing has really jumped out as being an exceptional bargain so far.

Course previous Steam sales have slightly recalibrated what an “exceptional bargain” is to the point that I barely look at anything over £10 unless it’s the entire back catalogue of a publisher, and even a fiver seems a bit steep for a single game. The Witcher 2 sounds a fine game, but even with 33% off was a bit much; I’m interested in Fable 3, but lukewarm reviews made me think twice about it, even at £15. I’m really keen to pick up Total War: Shogun 2 at some point, but the Total War series need a decent amount of time to play, and I still haven’t finished my Peninsular campaign in Napoleon: Total War. Previous Steam sales have also packed my library with games I might’ve been tempted by like Tropico 3 and Just Cause 2, which reminds me I must get back to them at some point as well…

An interesting facet of the event is the ability to win tickets through various achievements, the tickets then entering you into a prize draw for games from your wishlist, but also acting as a currency that you can exchange for a variety of DLC-type prizes (Edit: PC Gamer conveniently just posted a list). The majority of achievements are within specific games, none of which I’ve had so far, but one a day is usually something connected to Steam itself (joining a group, leaving a comment, uploading a screenshot etc.) which I’ve been ticking off, so I’m now trying to decide if I want to cash the tickets in for snorkels on the robots in Portal 2 or an entire Alien Breed game…

It may all be an insidious plot to infiltrate Steam into everything you do, collate massive amounts of customer data and/or maintain a stranglehold on PC gaming, but in general I like the platform and what they’re doing with it even if they’re not offering a super-pack of every game of the last 10 years for 76p. Microsoft, meanwhile, are shuffling Games for Windows Live to because… erm… they want to save the ten bucks on domain renewal?

Reviewlet: Beat Hazard

There’s been an enorm-o-sale on at Steam for the past couple of weeks that I’ve been furiously not posting about in a desperate attempt to avoid adding yet more games to the big pile o’ stuff I hardly have time to play. I was doing quite well, partly due to the plethora of offers giving a paradox of choice, partly due to having a bunch of stuff from previous sales, until I finally succumbed and bought The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom on the recommendation of Melmoth, a couple of packs of Borderlands DLC (skipping Mad Moxxi’s Underdome on the recommendation of Jon Shute), Tropico 3 and Beat Hazard. Less than £20, all-in, a comparative flesh wound by Steam sale standards.

Beat Hazard is what I’d describe as “a bit like Asteroids“, in the modern parlance I understand it to be a Bullet Hell Shmup (true aficionados would doubtless sneer at the paltry number of bullets on screen, though, maybe “Bullet Drat” or “Bullet Heck” would be more apt). Like Everyday Shooter it’s a music-based shoot ’em up, but it uses your own MP3 collection like Audiosurf. The power of your guns, and intensity of the enemy attacks, are based on the volume of the music, which can lead to interesting gameplay when an otherwise-frantic track has a few quiet moments and your magnificent blazing lasers of death suddenly turn into pop-guns.

The visuals are stunning, fields of colour pulsating in time with the beat, especially as you power up your weapons in a particularly intense song. Definitely one to avoid if you have issues with photo-sensitivity, otherwise revel in the psychedelia.

As with Audiosurf it has the perfect gameplay chunk size, you can have a quick blast in a spare five minutes (or a spare 23 seconds for a couple of early Napalm Death tracks), but the “… just one more song” factor can easily keep you working through your MP3 collection for a couple of hours. Without the audio it would be a decent enough shmup but not really enough to keep me coming back, with a soundtrack of such unquestionable taste it’s definitely worth a couple of quid.

Every time, just like the last

I suspect it won’t come as a massive shock to regular readers if I revealed that I too have succumbed to the recent Steam sale. Like Melmoth I bought the Complete THQ Pack, and in the competitive bargain-off stakes I lose out from already having more of the games (Company of Heroes and its first expansion, the platinum edition of Dawn of War that… oh yeah, I got from a previous Steam sale), but possibly edge ahead on the number of games I actually would like to play (as well as Red Faction: Guerilla and Dawn of War II, I quite fancy Saints Row II and the second Company of Heroes expansion, and never got around to Titan Quest before either).

Buying that full pack at least seemed to inoculate me against bargain fever for the rest of the weekend. I was sore tempted by other offers, notably Batman: Arkham Asylum and Borderlands, but apart from anything else on a 2Mb broadband connection it’s going to take about three weeks (and incur the wrath of ISP “fair use” limits) to download all the THQ games without adding another couple of multi-gigabyte behemoths to the list. Anyway, even before buying the THQ pack I had too many games. Charlie Brooker wrote about living in a stuff-a-lanche: “I’m fairly certain I recently passed a rather pathetic tipping point, and now own more unread books and unwatched DVDs than my remaining lifespan will be able to sustain.” I think I’ve got a similar thing with games, let alone books, DVDs, radio series, blogs, forums, podcasts… I’ve managed about three levels of Freedom Force since getting that six months ago, and fired up Civilisation III precisely once to verify that, yes, it does exist. I’ve hardly gone back to any of the indie games pack from the summer, nor got any further than the tutorial mission of Men of War. My attempted justification of “well, there’ll probably be a quiet time without many game releases, and I’ll be able to get around to things then” becomes increasingly like stockpiling canned food for the Christmas holidays because the shops might be shut when it would take a nuclear explosion to close a big supermarket for more than 20 minutes, and that would just be to restock the shelves with hazmat suits and really high factor suncream. That’s before even contemplating MMOGs, which in most cases can expand to fill any available free time like cavity insulation foam with levels and classes.

Still, never mind. It shouldn’t take too much to bludgeon the last remnant of the rational mind into submission. Another good Steam sale should do it: “if I already have more games than I could possibly play, adding another 15 to the pile results in ‘more games than I could possibly play’, which is exactly the same situation, so there’s no reason not to get them! Pass the credit card…”

It’s just as unpleasant to get more than you bargain for as to get less.

Another Steam sale arrived this weekend and I once again found myself buying a huge number of games all because they were reduced in price and thus a ‘bargain’. Games are to me as shoes are to Mrs Melmoth: I see her come home with five armfuls of shoe boxes and she then spends the next half an hour telling me how much of a bargain they were. She tells me how cheap this pair was or how expensive that pair was but how much it was reduced by. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a shrewd purchaser of shoes and she gets some real bargains by carefully scouring the shop sales: for the price that some people pay for a single pair of shoes she’ll manage to come home with five or six pairs of equivalent quality. Then, as we all do, she gathers up her mighty pile of trophies, tiny consumerist victories every one, and with great pride she marches up the stairs, opens the door to the bedroom cupboard and shoves them all at the bottom, never to be seen again.

I do the same with games. Steam is my bedroom cupboard floor.

I bought the THQ pack at the weekend. It contains, as far as I can tell, every game THQ ever made and possibly a few games that they didn’t actually make but wished that they had. Why did I buy it? Because it was twenty six pounds and Steam told me it was worth five hundred and seventy two thousand pounds, or something. How could I not buy it? “I mean” – I begin to justify to myself, in that way that I do that means I know that I’m doing something stupid but if I just keep talking to myself for long enough then whatever it is that is stupid suddenly becomes perfectly sensible – “it does have a huge number of games in it that I haven’t played yet”. And at the time I thought myself right, and told myself that I was clearly not mad but in fact a very shrewd purchaser of electronic entertainment products, and that I absolutely should purchase this monumental bargain right now in case THQ/Valve suddenly realised what fools they’d been, oh and here are some endorphins to make you feel good. Mmmm, endorphins.

Of course the actual obvious retort was that I hadn’t played any of these games because, on the whole, I didn’t like any of these games, otherwise I probably would have bought them sooner. As I looked down the list of games that were now cluttering up my Steam interface I realised that Dawn of War II and Red Faction:Guerrilla were probably the only games from the selection that I was realistically likely to play, and then only if I happened to be in some sort of horrendous velcro accident that resulted in me not being able to leave my computer chair for a decade. It was a bargain though, so the endorphins told me that I was vindicated and that I’d ‘won’ over ‘the man’. And of course I totally hadn’t, because ‘the man’ is actually ‘a cliff’ and I am merely one of a large number of lemmings, sore beset by the pressure of temptation, willing to throw myself off the top; and thus I plummeted down and dashed myself against the rocks of reason hiding just beneath the surface of the sea of bargains.

I did pick up a couple of other games though, and although they were reduced in price and thus technically bargains, the fact that I’m playing them both means that they aren’t ‘bargains’ in the traditional sense. Firstly I grabbed Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic for the princely sum of some two whole pounds, for no other reason than, frankly, it would be rude not to. The other game that I bought was the digital deluxe (is it just me or is this the sort of name you give to a vibrator, and not a computer game?) version of Dragon Age: Origins because it was reduced in price; everyone has played it and generally raved about it; and I’ve never, for my sins, completed a Bioware fantasy RPG. I know, I know: gasps of shock, cries of horror, prayers to various gods, a lady in the first aisle faints and has to be carried away, people start to sob and moan and beat themselves about the head in disbelief. I completed Mass Effect, if that helps? Okay, maybe not. I’m rectifying the situation now, though, so you’ll have to be satisfied with that. I’ve played a little way through the game so far and have a few comments already but I’ll save those for another post.

So I bought a few ‘bargains’ at the weekend as well as a few cheap games; I rest content in the knowledge, however, that I didn’t have to leave the comfort of my house to pick up my bargains, that they take up a lot less space, and that piles of them don’t tumble out of a cupboard and try to kill me when I open the door in order to grab a coat.

Indie Pack Reviewlet: Braid

“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey… stuff.” So said The Doctor in Blink, but it might well have been Jonathan Blow talking about Braid, for it’s a very timey-wimey game.

Like Blueberry Garden, it starts off with the platform game staples of the cursor keys to move and space to jump. Unlike Blueberry Garden, it continues with the platform game staple of a wandering thing you have to jump over or stamp on the head of to avoid death, and ladders to climb, and moving platforms, and things to collect (pieces of jigsaw puzzles). Time starts going wibbly-wobbly the first time you die: press shift and time rewinds, enabling you to put right what once went wrong. It’s a little like having Quick Save/Quick Load keys that we’ve become accustomed to in many genres, but even better, a retrospective quick save where you decide after the fact where you saved the game. This changes the basic gameplay similar to the way Sky+/TiVo changes watching television; it’s remarkably convenient, but it doesn’t change the fundamentals of the platform.

I was hopping through the third world of Braid, enjoying the freedom that rewinding time gives you, not worrying that a slight slip would force you all the way back to the start of a level to re-do everything, when it began to annoy me. I just couldn’t see how to pick up certain jigsaw pieces, or how to kill a boss who needed five chandeliers dropping on his head when there were only two chandeliers available. I didn’t want to totally spoil things with a walkthrough, but a quick Google on “Braid hints” turned up a splendid page that understands that too much information would ruin the game, and just nudges you along. Literally one line was the hint I needed, I’d seen the glowing objects in the level, of course, but hadn’t twigged that they existed outside the timeline you control (the very first puzzle you have to solve depends on that property, but I thought it just applied to keys as opposed to all glowing objects). As soon as that clicked, the game transformed from “quite fun platform game” to “work of fiendish genius”, and you really have to start thinking in non-linear time. Subsequent worlds employ different mechanics; the one in which time moves forward when you go right, and backwards when you go left is a particular mind-bugger.

Braid is beautifully styled, with visuals like a painting. It even has a plot about, would you believe it, a lost princess; finish a world and, in a stunning turn of events, it turns out the princess isn’t in that castle. Just as the gameplay twists the standard Super Mario fare, though, so does the story, with books in lobby areas peeling back layers and looking at time, loss and regret. If that sounds a bit too arty for you, though, you can pretty much just ignore it and get on with the puzzles, or even the simple joy of rewinding time and going “beeeeoooowwwww!”

Braid ran perfectly smoothly on the laptop, and £9.99 is a more than reasonable price. It’s a very close-run race between Braid and World of Goo for “game of the pack”; I’d say World of Goo *just* edges it, but they’re both wonderful games that, in the world of ever-increasingly budgeted blockbusters, show there’s joy, innovation and real quality out there in indie-land. Two thumbs up, one of which travels into the past while the other remains in the present timeline.

Indie Pack Reviewlet: Everyday Shooter

In some ways Everday Shooter is so Old Skool it would spell “Old School” properly; it’s a shooter in which your “ship” is a blob, on each level you fly around a single screen, you have three lives and die when you touch pretty much anything. In other ways it’s as much of an “art-game” as The Path; the author describes it as “…an album of games exploring the expressive power of abstract shooters. Dissolute sounds of destruction are replaced with guitar riffs harmonizing over an all-guitar soundtrack, while modulating shapes celebrate the flowing beauty of geometry.” The combination of the two works rather well.

You move your ship with the cursor keys and can fire in one of eight directions using WASD, or a combination thereof. True to being an “album of games”, you’re on each level for the duration of its background song with the objective of firstly surviving, and secondly scoring points by collecting blobs left behind after destroying certain enemies. Each level has a different “chaining mechanism” that enables you to cause much explosion-ism for great justice (and scoring opportunity). The points you earn, as well as being a simple measure of score, also allow you to purchase extras, such as more lives and graphical filters.

One of the real strengths of Everyday Shooter is that you can pick it up and play straight away, and put it down after five or ten minutes feeling like you’ve actually done something, a little like the golden age of arcades only without needing so many 10p coins, so it was ideal for a bit of holiday gaming. It ran well on the laptop, and at £5.99 is pretty reasonable. Overall, an eight-way shooting thumbs up.