Dear Diary by Iza87

AR Diary: September


What did I write about back in August? Oh, right: Satellite Reign, Rocket League and Lego Jurassic World. What have I been playing in September? Um…

But, okay, fine: I finished Satellite Reign a few days ago. I liked it. Aesthetically and narratively its debt to Syndicate Wars could not be clearer, but for all the noise made about how it is a successor to the original Syndicate, it is actually far more similar to Relic’s Dawn of War 2 games. To wit: a small squad of units with distinct abilities pitted against a range of opponents dotted around maps that can be approached as you see fit, although you do ultimately have set objectives to achieve.

Dawn of War 2 was all about straightforward annihilation of the enemy for the space-cause du jour, whereas Satellite Reign also allows various stealth options and encourages the use of abilities to open up new routes and tactical opportunities… although as the game wears on it begins to lean more and more towards everything culminating in blowing the shit out of swarms of mooks. Which seems familiar.

It’s a fine game, and continues to open up admirably as you explore the range of upgrades and abilities on offer. The more I played, however, the closer I came to getting on board with the heart of the criticism I mentioned last month: that the city does not alter in response to your actions, and the impression you leave upon it will vanish in seconds. It could feel, in retrospect, like a missed opportunity… but it’s also clear just how much of a technical and design challenge seizing such an opportunity might have been for a medium-sized indie project (Kickstarted to the tune of £460k, plus whatever Steam Early Access sales they’ve made since last December).

I wonder if today we are spoiled by open worlds, and by the adaptive systems that can be planted within them? Reading what was promised on Satellite Reign’s Kickstarter campaign page it’s clear that the final game doesn’t quite match up to the vision described there. I did not, for example, choose “to free the masses from the corporate stranglehold, or to take control”. Regardless, an open world that genuinely changed based on your decisions is not quite what was promised in its sales pitch. There’s not only space between the game the developers dreamed of and what they created, but between both those datapoints and how we as an audience have interpreted an articulation of that dream.

I’m rambling. I’m tired. Whatever your thoughts on Kickstarter promises* and games not living up to zeitgeisty expectations, Satellite Reign’s core gameplay, and the emergent scenarios that unfolded from moment to moment decisions, from the abilities and augments I chose for my team, was executed well. And I think, in this instance, that I’m happier with a game that sheds the fringes of the dream that birthed it, than one which allowed its ambition to exceed its reach.

I’m a little surprised that I feel this way, to be honest, as I’d ordinarily expect to find myself arguing passionately for the opposite.

On Rocket League, I will only add that I’ve rarely laughed as much when playing a game as during a local co-op match with Dylan, and on Lego Jurassic World, I will only add that C and I continue to thoroughly enjoy it, but holy fuck did Traveller’s Tales drop the ball on QA. Given that it’s a game with a substantial audience among younger folks, that it’s the latest in a series with over a decade of pedigree, and has one of the world’s largest toy brands associated with it, I’m a little appalled at how many experience-damaging bugs were allowed to slip out into the finished product.



There’s a really interesting discussion around indie games and their markets happening at Electron Dance right now. The initial post that prompted it is an interesting read and some of the discussion has subsequently spilled elsewhere following a newsletter update (yep, ED does newsletters – it’s deliciously retro).

AJ continues to periodically post stuff over at our Facebook page, if you’re interested in more SOSHAL MEEJUH.

I also want to offer a shout out for Cool Ghosts, the new-ish site collab between Matt Lees and Quintin Smith. They hardly need the promotion, with this new effort probably already having more regular readers than AR has ever had, but I’d never really gotten into VIDYA CONTENT before Cool Ghosts so they’re clearly doing something right. Also their website is pink and very nice.

Speaking of things far more successful than I will ever be: here’s a good episode of the Designer Notes podcast in which host Soren Johnson talks to Chris Avellone. Sigh. So dreamy.




[ * Speaking of Kickstarter promises: First Wonder. I liked Giants: Citizen Kabuto a lot when I played it in 2002, but my latent nostalgia for that game isn’t enough to make up for that dreadful pitch video. I guess I hope they manage to make the game and it turns out well… ]






5 responses to “AR Diary: September”

  1. Electron Dance Avatar

    Thanks for the mention Shaun. I had meant to write more in the comments but life has intervened. Hopefully I will be back soon.

    1. Shaun Avatar

      Good luck getting back on track, Joel! Failing that, good luck with the book? ;)

  2. Walker Avatar

    Yes! Comments. Right.

    The most noteworthy September gaming for me involved Black Closet, the second title from Hanako Games I’ve quite enjoyed. (There was also some Civ V; that happens, occasionally.)

    I will admit I’ve been rather prejudiced against Visual Novel-type games in the past, but they do have some features that are growing on me. (It also helps that I’ve become less inclined to rail about what really counts as games.) At least the Ren’Py based ones I’ve played let you read dialogue at your own speed, with easy way to scroll back and forwards in case you missed something, and let you skip previously seen content all together. This facilitates speedy progress from moments of choice and decision to the next, which are what most interest me in roleplay-y games.

    Black Closet also features more game mechanical fun than most VNs, with you managing your team of minions in solving various cases that land on your desk. The minions have varying skills (and some job preferences) and maintaining the reputation of the school requires you to make good use of them. The cases all come in different variants, so it’s not obvious without investigating if, for example, the suspected goth is planning violence on her schoolmates, or is merely the victim of nasty rumors. This aspect reminds me of Covert Action, of all things. (Incidentally, Firaxis, if you’ll remake Covert Action I’ll preorder one right now, thank you.)

    Did I remember to mention the game takes place in a boarding school and all the characters are teenage girls? It’s a cutthroat world out there.

    My game for October will be Cities: Skylines, apparently.

    1. Shaun Avatar

      Black Closet sounds more intriguing every time you tell me about it. Perhaps I should give it a go! The last ren’py game I played was Hatoful Boyfriend, which involved a lot of repeated content and didn’t have the little concessions to player experience and time investment you mention here.

      Covert Action recently got installed at work. Hopefully I can play it over the occasional lunchtime!

      1. Walker Avatar

        Covert Action is better in concept than in execution. Meier said it taught him the lesson than one good game is better than two great ones. The different parts of the game do rather get in each others’ way.

        It’s still pretty sweet.