Friday, February 5, 2021

Try It, You Might Like It

There's a promotional event going on right now over on Steam. It's called the Steam Game Festival. Makes it sound substantial. It's a bunch of demos and some devs livestreaming. 

If it was a bigger deal it wouldn't be third banner down on the home page, I guess. Those pinks, purples, oranges put me in mind of the kind of flyer you get handed in the center of some down-at-heel market town on a Wednesday evening. Student Night in a basement club under a second-rate hotel. First drink half price. Maybe it's meant to be retro. Or ironic. Is irony in again?

Garish as it is, there's a better-than-even chance I still wouldn't have noticed if a couple of blogs on my watchlist hadn't weighed in with commentary and suggestions. Several of the titles on both lists looked interesting so I thought I'd take a few minutes to pick through the possibilities.

It was hard work. I find Steam a pain to navigate at the best of times. It's cluttered and chaotic and not in a good way. In common with almost every virtual storefront the designers seem to live in terror of someone discovering a way to see only those things that already interest them so no matter how carefully you set the options it makes next to no difference. Everything eventually shows up everywhere.

Wow! Dymotape lettering! Not seen that in a while.

I flipped and clicked and scrolled through the jumble, trying to avoid anything my mouse touched popping out a video to tempt me. It felt like walking through a seaside town after dark, two blocks back from the promenade, signs on every corner, waiters calling out from every bar and restaurant, all trying to get you to come inside. 

If I hadn't already clicked through some of the links on Nerdy Bookahs, visited those games' individual pages, I would never have guessed they existed. Couldn't find their stalls in the festival even when I knew what I was looking for. 

It didn't help that Steam seems to categorize games very diferently from the way I'd do it. Titles I was looking for under "Adventure" turned up most prominently in "Puzzles" or "Visual Novels although, as I suggested earlier, scroll deep enough and everything turns up eventually. Just not where you expect.

In the end I had to type the names of the specific games I wanted to look at into the search field. I gave up completely on browsing for anything Paeroka or Magiwastaken hadn't mentioned. I went back to  Paeroka's links, checked them all to see if any of them caught my fancy, then cross-refered back to Steam.

I wonder how much of the city we get to see?


I did find a couple of things that weren't on either of the blog lists. The five demos I ended up downloading were:

Ring of Fire

The Longest Road on Earth

Frozen Flame

Nine Noir Lives

Kathy Rain : Director's Cut

I also took a look at Cats and Other Lives and Detective from the Crypt. I might download those later, depending how far I get with the ones I've already chosen.

Of all of them, the one I was by far the most intertested to try was Kathy Rain. I've already played and written about the original edition, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The prospect of an expanded version featuring "extended storyline with a prolonged ending, hundreds of lines of additional dialogue, and multiple new areas to explore" and "several new major puzzle chains." is enticing. I hadn't realized that Dave Gilbert of Wadjet Eye was involved. He directed the English-language voice acting, apparently. No wonder it's so good.

This is a pun that makes no sense. The customer is here to server the bartender? I still laughed, though.

The only problem I have with playing the demo is that I've already added the full game to my wishlist. I'm not sure I want to spoil my eventual fun with a teaser.

A teaser was all I got from Frozen Flame. Steam has it as it tagged as an "mmorpg", for what that's worth. Steam tags, hmmmph. Massively OP has also covered it, as a "multiplayer survival rpg". It's a fellow-traveller at least, then. I'd have a better idea if the demo had lasted more than ten minutes.

Officially, I played for twelve minutes according to Steam, but that included at least two minutes staring at the EULA with the screen frozen. I got in eventually. I was a big guy with a two-handed sword. The game told me to go to a bridge. I couldn't see it but there were things to kill so I killed them.

That part ended. The big guy vanished. I found myself at character creation so I made a character. She arrived in a very pretty snow scene. There was an NPC. He wouldn't speak. Then he woke up and some very pretty lights appeared. I made my way towards some NPCs who were waiting for me next to a huge gate. When I got there I just had time to watch it open. I had a brief vision of an open world beyond and then the demo closed down.

There's being smart and there's being a smartass. And then there's this tutorial.


Figuring that was it, I was annoyed enough to uninstall. A short while later I spotted a news item about the demo on Massively:OP. I commented there about my experience and a reader by the name of Solaris was kind enough to let me know there was meant to be more: "After the cinematic with the dragon you should get dropped into the game world. The game is beautiful. It’s a little tough to get started but once you do, lots to explore and discover".

I'll re-install it and try again. It did look very pretty. I'd prove it with screenshots only I was in and out so fast I didn't have time to take any.

I had a much better experience with the next demo: Nine Noir Lives. This, as the overworked and awkward title tries to sign, is a detective game with cats. Yes, another one. 

I am the target market for these, it seems. I keep playing them, anyway. I played this one for over an hour. Seventy minutes, Steam says. It was an enjoyable and entertaining hour. Seventy minutes. Whatever. Almost all of it was spent sitting back, hands off, listening to voiceover. Not so much a visual novel as a radio play with pictures.

You should try listening to yourself sometime. It's very much the same thing.
If your "game" consists almost entirely of voice acting, your actors and director need to be solid and so does your script. Nine Noir Lives isn't Kathy Rain, let alone Neo Cab, but it's professional and entertaining enough. The main character, the unfortunately-named Cuddles Nutterbutter, is nicely voiced, comfortable to listen to for long periods of time. His assistant is a little harder to take but she grew on me after a while.

The visuals are unsettling. Noir detectives usually have down-at-heel offices with shabby carpets and dinged desks. If they have a view it's of the trash cans in a back alley or the flashing neon sign on the bar across the street. Nutterbutter seems to operate out of a corner penthouse suite with floor to ceiling windows and enough polished parquet flooring for a dance hall. His lighting bill alone must come to more than most private dicks earn in a calendar year. 

As for the plot, after an hour I've only just arrived at what I assume is the opening act. I logged out when I reached the third location, the Knitty Kitty Club, just as it looked like the action might finally be about to start. 

My eyes! My eyes!
I won't say any more just yet. There's probably enough in this demo for a proper First Impressions post. It would be a shame to pre-empt it.

The event runs until February 9th. I'm unclear whether that means the demos will become unavailable to download after that or whether any demos Steam punters have already installed will stop working. I suspect it just means the promotions and the livestreams will end. You'd imagine, having taken the trouble to make a demo, most developers would want to keep it in play at the very least until the game comes out and probably a lot longer than that.

We'll find out next week, I guess. By which time I hope to have at least taken a look at my five picks and maybe posted about them as well.


  1. Unfortunately these are only live for, like... a week, and a week is nowhere near long enough for me to decide to do anything, so I always miss these demo festivals.

    1. I can't see the merit in imposing a time limit on what is effectively your shop window. It's not as though these were sales or special offers: they're promotional demos. What's the point of making them if you don't allow them to do their job? Even false scarcity doesn't seem to make sense here.

  2. After the last Game Festivals, some games left their demo available, but most of the ones I had tried removed their demo afterwards. So, it's hard to say...


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