Sunday, May 30, 2021

Make Your Mind Up

posted a poll about how long people generally give a new game before deciding whether or not they like it. It got me thinking.

If I pay money for a game, I am going to play it. No ifs or buts. I might not finish it. I probably won't finish it. But I will play it, for long enough to feel I've had my money's worth.

I don't buy games on impulse. I think about it first, often for a long time. I don't buy games unless I'm sure I have both the time and the inclination to play them right away. 

Games I get for free, though, that's a different story. These days, with so many places giving them away, I get to try far more new games than I have for years. Probably the last time I played anything like this many new-to-me titles would have been back in the 1980s.

Just today I downloaded three new, free titles from Amazon Prime - Healer's Quest, The Blind Prophet and A Blind Legend. I could have taken several more but I try to sift out anything I would never play and most things I probably wouldn't.

That still leaves quite a lot of games I might or might not play, depending on circumstances. Games like that I do download but sometimes they sit around for a while before I take a look at them.

When I eventually get around to trying them out it can be a multi-stage process. Stage one can be very short. A game that fails then might not last more than a few seconds, rarely more than a couple of minutes.


It's the stage when I find out if the game really is what I thought it was. Mostly I decide which free games to take and which to leave based on the short description offered by whichever platform is trying to tempt me. They're not always as accurate as you might wish.

If I'm unsure I sometimes go to the publisher's website or find a full review but as often as not I take the basic description on trust. If, when I get into the game, I find I've been misled or, more likely, I've misinterpreted the terminology ("adventure" is such a vague descriptor for example) I'll usually realize my mistake in the opening moments, often as soon as I see the controls.

If the game passes the truth in advertising test it's on to the gameplay. Stage two is whether I can play the thing at all.

Sometimes I find I've made a good choice in theory but not so much in practice. Krikket was talking about occasionally having no patience with learning curves. I'm generally fine with the learning process when it comes to mechanics and systems. I actively enjoy coming to grips with those.

My problem is one of facility. There are plenty of games, even whole genres, I literally can't play at all. I probably could learn to play them although I'm not even sure about that. In the eighties, when I was young, had far better reflexes and was willing to spend hours and hours trying to do things I wasn't much good at, I was still objectively bad at anything requiring precise movements or fast reactions.

If I start a new game, even if I like the look of it, as soon as it becomes clear to me I can't do the things the game is asking me to do because I can't manipulate the controls well enough, I will stop. That generally takes no more than five or ten minutes although there are some edge cases where I really like the game and the controls aren't actually impossible. Then, I might struggle on for anything up to an hour before reluctantly throwing in the towel.


If the problem is intellectual rather than physical I'll stick it out a good while longer. There are games where I don't find out how much I dislike the mechanics until I've come to understand them properly. A few mmorpgs have fallen on that hurdle, by which time I could have been playing for a week or two.

Once I've established that the game is what I thought it was and I can actually play it, the final stage is whether I think it's any good. That can take a while. 

I'm not a broad church gamer. I know approximately what I like and I'm roughly going to stick with it, more often than not. I'll happily try something unfamiliar if it sounds interesting but mostly I color inside my own lines.

That approach has obvious weaknesses but the strength is I get a good sense of where each individual game stands in relation to other, similar, games I've played. I don't demand originality, I don't even demand excellence but I do expect a minimum level of competence. 

If I find myself playing something that seems significantly sub-par I'll bail fairly quickly. Even so, it often takes a while. I've played enough games that start badly then improve to be willing to wait at least until the end of the first chapter before cutting my losses.

The grey area comes with games that are competent examples of their genre but which lack any real flair. Perhaps unsurprisingly, those seem over-represented in the free handouts. I might persist with a game like that for a couple of hours or for several sessions before I finally just lose interest and walk away.

Enough with the generalizations. These are the most recent half dozen games I've tried and about how long it took me to decide whether I liked them or not.And whether I did.


Edgar - Bokbok in Boulzac - "Crackpot outcast Edgar sets out to Boulzac to save his squash, and instead uncovers an unearthly secret at the heart of the city. A colourful, surreal and utterly bonkers point-and-click narrative adventure."

I got this from Amazon Prime so I don't have an exact count of how long I played it but it was less than an hour. The description is reasonably accurate. It certainly is colorful and although I found the point-and-click controls a tad cumbersome it's a pretty traditional adventure, mechanically anyway. The setting and story are both about as surreal as you'd expect from a 90s TV cartoon, which is what it reminded me of. The art is very nice. Very French.

Unfortunately I found the gameplay repetitive and the narrative tedious. I had a vague feeling it might develop into something more interesting but it was taking far too long getting there and I didn't have the patience to wait. I'm not planning on going back for another look.

Close To The Sun - "Deep in international waters, Tesla’s Helios stands still. An unbound utopia for scientific research, Rose Archer steps aboard in search of her sister, quickly to discover not all is as it seems. A single word covers the entrance… QUARANTINE!"

Another from Amazon Prime. I downloaded this a while ago but I only started playing it this afternoon, specifically for this post. I was planning on stopping as soon as I could answer the question of whether I liked it or not but I ended up playing straight through the prologue and the first three chapters, which took me a couple of hours. I knew within five minutes I liked the game.

It's visually delightful as the screenshots show but the main reason I kept playing was the gameplay. It's a walking sim with puzzles and I found both the pacing and the difficulty almost perfectly pitched to hold my interest. I only had to check a YouTube video once and even then it was just to work out the mechanics of a puzzle, not to find out what I needed to do. I had a jolly good time right up until the maniac with the knife appeared. 

The big problem with Close To The Sun is the writing. It's not terrible but it is jarringly ill-judged at times. The setting is an alternate 1890s but everyone sounds as though they were born a century later. It's also very sweary and the swearing is very modern in tone. The low point came when one character called another a nerd. Why pick a historical setting if you're not going to bother to use it? 


Metaphobia - "Metaphobia is an investigative mystery game in the style of classic 1990’s point-and-click adventures. Take control of Richard Elmstat in his journey to solve his father's murder."

Free on Steam. Very accurate description. Can't say I didn't get what I was expecting. Unfortunately it's dull as ditchwater. I lasted about half an hour but I wanted to stop before that.

I kept going for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it trundled along without many obvious stopping points. There's almost no time wasted going from location to location and most of the puzzles are simple. The conversations drag on a bit but generally it moves quite fast. Secondly, it became obvious early on that the prosaic detective story was going to take a turn into X-Files territory and I was curious to see where it would go.

Not curious enough as it turns out. Probably not going to go back to this one.


The Supper - "The Supper is a short adventure game about the darkest side of the human soul. Ms. Appleton was always a wellspring of kindness, until The Voice started talking to her."

Free on  Steam. It is short. I finished it in twenty-two minutes. At that length the question of how long you'd play it before you decided whether you liked it becomes moot. 

The graphics are cute for a game so gory. The controls I found a tad fiddly but basically fine. The puzzles are perfunctory for the most part. The story is snappy, succinct and satisfying. It's a tapas of a game and there's really no reason not to play it all the way through.

Little Nightmares - "Immerse yourself in Little Nightmares, a dark whimsical tale that will confront you with your childhood fears! Help Six escape The Maw – a vast, mysterious vessel inhabited by corrupted souls looking for their next meal."

This was free on Steam yesterday, which is when I got it. Today it'll cost you £15.99. I got a great bargain. It looks amazing and it grabbed me the instant I logged in. I would love to play it but... I can't.

It's the perfect example of a Stage Two fail. I understand the mechanics. I understand the controls. I just don't have sufficient dexterity and motor control to use them with anything approaching comfort or facility. 

I played Little Nightmares for twelve minutes before I gave up but I knew it was hopeless long before that. It's a testament to how much I wanted to be able to play it that I lasted that long. I might have struggled on for a while longer had it not occured to me that all I really wanted to do was explore the wonderfully-realised world and find out what happened to the delightful lead character and I could do it much more enjoyably by watching someone who can actually play the game.

There's a full playthrough with no commentary on YouTube. It lasts almost two hours. I'll watch that instead and save myself hours of frustration.

Plot of the Druid - Nightwatch - "Plot of the Druid: Nightwatch is a free prologue to the full game Plot of the Druid. A fantasy point-and-click adventure game that uses high-definition hand-painted drawings to capture the feel of old-school pixel art. The script has dry, sarcastic British wit that’s reminiscent of Simon the Sorcerer, Discworld, and Harry Potter."

Free on Steam. I was dubious about this even for free and I was entirely right to be. Being British, I do not find the phrase "dry, sarcastic British wit" appealing in any way whatsoever. It's lazy stereotyping, bordering on offensive - and not just to Brits. Like we have the copyright on sarcasm.

The comparisons are interesting. Harry Potter, I guess, is there because of the magic school setting. If there are any other similarities they passed me by. The other two, though, are quite accurate. Plot of the Druid - Nightwatch bears almost no ressemblance to any of Sir Terry's books but it is in direct line of descent to the horrible video game adaptations. The game it very much does remind me of, though, is indeed Simon the Sorceror, a boorish, thick-headed punfest I was unfortunate enough to pay money for several decades ago.


If anything, I thought this was better than Simon. Less cringeworthy, anyway. The jokes weren't funny but they didn't set my teeth on edge. The voice acting sounded like friends of the developers reading carefully from a script but at least no-one was doing a "funny" voice. As for the "Beautiful hand-painted HD artwork in the style of old-school pixel art" I think I must have missed it. Take a look at the screenshots and judge for yourself.

The gameplay was alright. I played on Young Apprentice difficulty, the easier of the two settings. There were a lot of puzzles. The harder difficulty, Master of Disaster, has more. Hard to see how you'd fit them in. Not many of the puzzles made any logical sense but then I don't suppose they would in a game like this. Be silly to expect it.

I started out thinking I'd last about five minutes but in the end I finished the whole thing. It took me about eighty minutes. I enjoyed it  more once I could turn into a racoon but then I would, wouldn't I? On balance, I didn't hate it but I sure as hell won't be pleging the kickstarter or buying the finished game, if and when it arrives.

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