Nov 162018
 

Cultist simulator is a game about starting your own cult, gathering lore and occult treasures, avoiding agents of the Suppression Bureau, summoning monsters and maybe ascending to immortality. Sounds fun, right?

Well, the first time I played, I was a menial laborer at a hospital who gets laid off. I had one scrap of occult knowledge which kept giving me cosmic Dread. I got a new job as an accountant, but my boss kept making me work overtime for no extra money. What tiny money I made was sucked up by illness and buying random books of lore. I died of existential dread.

At no point did I come close to doing anything magical. I was too busy trying to survive. The game has no tutorial and very little in-game help. The lore itself is based on an entirely new mythology created for the game, so any of your own experiences with occult stuff in the real world is useless here. Every part of this game is a damn mystery. It is extremely frustrating.

Yet, I kept trying. On my third play-through, I was  given the option of playing a wealthy heir.  No longer worried about starving to death or unreasonable bosses, I had some room to experiment. I still had the same “oh shit, I better figure this out quick” mentality from my past games which gave me the discipline to experiment with purpose.

Things started to come together. The lore and mythology made a little more sense. I learned to deal with existential dread. I discovered how to make friends. The game was still mysterious but step by step, I slowly began to make sense of it. Small achievements in retrospect were huge accomplishments at the moment because it was something hard won and bitterly learned.

Which is kind of what dealing with the occult in real life is like. Well played, Cultist Simulator, you have recreated the “What the fuck is all this?” that I felt from the first time I started reading about magic.

On that third game, I ascended to immortality. It wasn’t easy but it was fun. I’m on my fifth game and even though I know a lot more, it is still a fun and exciting challenge.

Part of what makes it so much fun is that mythology I mentioned. The designer created his own gods, magic system and secret histories. You learn tantalizing tidbits from the books your character reads. Piece by piece, the world comes into focus, but the order in which you get the pieces is random.

For example, the book, “the Locksmith’s Dreams, Volume One” reads like this.

The parallells in mystic dreams experienced by carpenters, masons and other artisans, and what they purport to reveal about the architecture of the world. Sometimes mordant, sometimes funny. No-one has ever explained why Galmier devoted herself to this quixotic exploration of artisans dreams.

“‘Time and again we hear of the Wood, which rises from the world’s foundation. All trees reach for light. What does the Wood reach for? Is there a difference between light and Light? I think the key to dreams of the Wood might be one of these – the one that isn’t exactly real.”

Yeah, I eat mysteries like that up.

Cultist Simulator is fun, but the thing I love most about it is that it is full of little inspirations. My brain bubbles when I play this game. Story ideas pop in my head. This is a game that simulates the experience of learning something obscure, but it also creates that fertile space where your brain is creating its own mysteries. A game like that is precious.

Oct 172018
 

Cthulhu City is a tabletop role-playing game about a mysterious city that sits on the east coast. The city doesn’t appear on any maps. The city isn’t in any history books. The city can be hard to find until one terrible night, you find yourself in the city and now find it impossible to leave. The city is called Great Arkham, but you will know it as Hell on Earth.

I feel like there are as many Call of Cthulhu inspired games as there are Great Old Ones in the stars. Some are Suck, many are Okay and others are even Quite Good. The Gumshoe line of games from Pelgrane Press aspire to be more than just Quite Good and transcend into Art. Cthulhu city is no different.

It takes Lovecraft’s original bunch of small haunted towns and asks what would happen to those small towns if they got absorbed into one terrible city like New York or Chicago? Innsmouth, for example, is no longer a small fishing town but the name of the neighborhood that has the docks. It applies this kind of logic to places like Dunwich and Kingsport; transforming familiar places into really neat evolutions.

A normal writer would have stopped there and called it a day but Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan goes further. He makes the city truly alien and sinister with little touches like the giant basalt buildings that clearly predate human civilization but stand alongside skyscrapers and no one finds that weird. There is the mysterious Transport Police, who technically exist to keep people with infectious diseases from coming into the city, but the buildings they spray down with their “disinfectants” tend to melt the next day. Or what about the Church of the Conciliator, who is the dominate religion in the city, that teaches that Christ did not ressurect, but instead is dying and yet dreaming of a time when humanity will be merged with the Will of the Divine?

There is a mystery in Chtulhu city and one of the brilliant innovations of this game is that it is up to the gamemaster to decide what that mystery is. Does Great Arkham exist in other dimension? is it a shared hallucination? Some terrible result of a world-bending spell? The gamemaster decides, and the players investigate. To help you, the book provides three to four versions of EVERY non-player character, so you can decide, per campaign, if wise Dr. Armitage is a rebel hero, secret traitor or something far worse.

The game is contained in one nice beautiful tome. It took me about three months to read it all because I had to digest it in bits and pieces. Even though I don’t have a gaming group at the moment, the book is a wonderful source of inspiration for all things great and creepy. I recommend it to any Lovecraft fan and hold it up as an example of how to improve on Lovecraft’s original work.

 

Aug 152018
 

Aster is a computer game where you play Aster, a cute blonde space lady, who shoots asteroids, aliens and space pirates. If an alien ship comes in contact with her, your ship is paralyzed while aliens bang Aster. If you make it to a boss fight, then you are treated to a slightly more deluxe sex scene with pirates. In between levels, you spend your hard earned currency on upgrades.

That’s pretty much it. It is advertised as a minigame, which is a polite way to say that the gameplay is similar to what you would find in an 70’s arcade, complete with really hard controls. That can be a good thing as I sometimes just want a game where my brain shuts off and I shoot shit dead. The alien/pirate sex scenes are just bonus.

Part of me feels like I am too old to be playing a game this simplistic that was clearly designed for horny young guys, and the other part gets a naughty thrill from unlocking every new sex scene. It feels like a dirty arcade version of my Vaquel stories, which I am totally okay with.

You can buy Aster here.

Jul 252018
 

My Sex Arena story is at 427 THOUSAND words right now and I estimate that I am about 70% done with the first draft. I have an idea I want to add in the second draft that might add another 10% to the story but hey, that is the kind of masochist I am.

One of the things that helps me with my sanity as I write this monster is playing video games. I tend to gravitate to one game and stick with it until I am done, which means when I come across an open owlrd exploration game, I can stick with it for a very long time.

My current game is Starbound. You play the last survivor of a Earth based space force that dedicates themselves to helping other races and building homes for them. Seriously. Imagine a very kick-ass Habitat for Humanity. The main story line is about defeating the monsters that conquered Earth but I haven’t spent that much time working on that problem because I wanted to build an island community on an Ocean world, and then after that I built a shelter on an Ice world, and then I built a farm on a Jungle planet and then, well you get the idea.

Remember Minecraft? That 3D game where you explored a world, dug mines and then built houses? Starbound is like the 2D version of that game, except unlike Minecraft, that is actually stuff to do in Stabound.

For example, you have a spaceship that you can build extensions for. You use that space ship to travel a really huge universe, land on planets and fight monsters in space. On the planets you can meet people for quests, come across ancient temples, and learn about alien cultures. Or you can just build houses for aliens and they pay you rent. or you can go fishing. Or you can explore the huge crafting options and work on making cool weapons. Or you can just fight a bunch of monsters and turn them into food and gold. Or work on building your mech suit and upgrading it.

I guess what I am saying is that there is a ton of stuff to do in Starbound but only if you are interested. I have spent weeks just fighting monsters in space. I spent nearly a month building that Island community because I liked the challenge of building a something underwater. It is a game that almost has too much to do but very little of it is required in order to finish the game.

It is this flexibility that makes it such a nice game to play while working on a huge project. Feeling aggressive? That day I am killing monsters. Feeling creative? That day I start another housing community. Just want to chill? I can fish or try to expand my list of cooking recipes.

So if you haven’t tried it, I suggest playing Starbound. Who knows, you might even finish it one day.

 

Feb 052018
 

The Beast is a card game for one person. The person shuffles the cards, makes a deck and then draws a card every day. The card references the terrible lusty monster that they are having sex with. You write based on what the card is asking and create a personal story of lust and horror. When you run out of cards, you write the end to your story and then burn it.

It is a pretty clever concept. You don’t use all of the cards when you play so there is a lot of room for replay. Comfort is a key concern in the game so if you draw a question that makes you uncomfortable, you are encouraged to skip that day. It is a monster sex story that only gets as dark as you let it.

I am near the end of my first play through and I like it. It is a personal game and I found myself confronting some themes that took me by surprise. For example, I ran across two cards in a row that dealt with the Beast rejecting me and my insecurity issues flared like a supernova. I became quite upset and had to give myself some self-therapy.

I hope my personal downer moment doesn’t discourage you from trying it. The fact that I could feel something so intense from a daily prompt game is a plus in my opinion. Most of the other cards deal with questions of logistics or descriptions of the Beast. I enjoyed making her bit by bit and the choices I made feel like some sort of weird Rorschach test.  This is technically a game but I feel like it is a guided exploration of self.

Of course, it has inspired me to try writing a similar game. Some of the cards remind me of entity creation in chaos magic practices. It might be fun/educational/foolish to create a card game that describes your relationship with a sexual demon or demoness. I’ll mull it around and see what happens.

In the meantime, I recommend you give the Beast a try.  For ten dollars you can get the pdf and make your own cards. For 15 dollars and some rather steep shipping and handling, you can get the physical cards. That is what I did and find them quite lovely.

Aug 292017
 

Who hasn’t watched the Wicker Man and wanted to run their own island of isolated cultists and do blood sacrifices? Well now you are in luck because the fine folks at Kilfox Games has their own Summerisle Simulator that they call The Shrouded Isle.  You are the cult leader of a village of cultists who believe the outside world is long dead. The cult is twiddling their thumbs waiting for the return of their Dark God who is supposed to show up in three years. Quick, everyone! Look busy!

Sadly, being a cult leader isn’t all about assembling a harem of love slaves and giving cool sermons. No, your little village needs to be kept in line. You have to make sure they stay ignorant or else they might figure out the rest of the world is doing fine. You have to keep their fervor up or else they might not want to sacrifice someone every season. You have to keep them disciplined or else they might skip prayer services to eat pastries or sit on comfy chairs. You have to keep their pertinence up to make sure sinners are adequately punished. Finally, you have to keep everyone obedient or else they might start making decisions on their own and you do not want that. Let any of those qualities get too low, and the village decides they need a new cult leader and the only retirement plan around here involves a torch or a knife.

But don’t worry, the five largest families in the village are here to help. Each house will happily lend you an advisor for the season. Now, these advisors might have secret vices like a thirst for knowledge or Dark God forbid, a sense of mercy, but they also might have some virtues like pyromania and a willingness to believe anything.  You start by knowing very little about your advisors except what the family is willing to tell you so you have to learn their virtues and vices through making them work.

At the end of the season, someone needs to get sacrificed to keep the Dark God happy. Remember those advisors you get from the five families? Those are the sacrifice candidates and you get to pick one. It is a great way to punish that asshole in charge of keeping every ignorant who keeps suggesting we start a public library. You get a neat sacrifice scene with varying amounts of blood. Good times!

Except, those five families get a little cranky if you sacrifice one of them. If the sacrifice is a sinner, then tough shit but if you are sacrificing someone for petty reasons or you sacrificed someone from their family last year, the family might get pissed enough to overthrow you. Sometimes they get pisses if you just don’t give them enough responsibilities. The families will find a lot of reasons to get pissed.

Which means you spend a lot of time in the game keeping your village controlled, looking for major sinners to sacrifice while still balancing the politics of the five families. Oh, and did I mention that the Dark God speaks to you in dreams and will make requests? He might decide that he wants twice as much ignorance as before, or maybe he really wants you to kill the Liar in your town and you need to go find out them.

This leads to wonderful situations like finding the Liar that the Dark God wants dead but sadly you killed someone from the Liar’s family last season so you have to hold off on your Dark God’s request and kill someone else, like Bob who didn’t do anything wrong except his family likes you a lot so you feel safe killing one of them for shit reasons. Poor Bob! He didn’t do anything except be in the wrong council at the wrong season. Politics man, it will kill you even in a cult.

This is a neat game about choices and sacrifices. It requires a certain dark humor but it is a lot of fun. The art is minimal and creepy and the music is perfect. You spend a lot of time investigating your cult members which turns it into a deductive game. I liked it a lot and you may too.

Jan 092017
 

Lakeview Cabin Collection is a group of small games organized around a fictional franchise of horror movies. You start in a theater and you have the option of “seeing” Lakeview Cabin III, IV, V and VI. Each theater takes you to a different puzzle oriented horror game.

The first game is probably the best at explaining how the games work. You start with four camp counselors charged with getting the camp ready for the summer. You are advised not to get drunk or have sex. The camp is a spacious area filled with rakes, beer, axes, hammers, gasoline and other fun items. It doesn’t take long to figure out how to get your characters naked in their full genital glory. It takes even shorter to accidentally hurt one of your characters with the before-mentioned axes, hammers and gasoline. It is a fun sandbox to play around with and get up to summer sex comedy shenanigans.

The shenanigans end when you notice someone nailed a bird to a wall. You also notice find some scribbled notes from the previous camp kids who were afraid of something. And hey, who is that mysterious man with the red mustache you see hiding in the woods?

As you can imagine, something terrible is coming to kill the counselors and you have to figure out how to take the dangerous items that maimed your counselors when you were dicking around and weaponize them.

The rest of the games play out in similar situations. Part Four is inspired by the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Part Five is a mystery set in an 80’s suburb in the style of Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street. Part Six takes place on a space station and owes big debts to the Thing and Alien.

These games are wonderful tributes to different eras of horror. As a horror fan, I was impressed by how the designer was able to evoke and pay tribute to the movies that inspire him, without turning the games into pastiches. It is a tricky thing to do and I think the games are worth studying just to figure out what that fine line is. A pixel version of Alien’s Ripley as one of your characters works but what would have pushed it over and made it distracting? Hell if I know.

The games are also damn hard and I had to use a walkthrough for each one. It didn’t hurt my enjoyment any. Knowing you have to use a shotgun on a chainsaw wielding maniac doesn’t make shooting a maniac any less exciting.

Why does Lakeview Cabin start with Part III? Because Part I was a free-to-play browser game that you can play here. I suggest you give it a try to see if you like the style of play enough to buy the collection.

 

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Nov 282016
 

20160605113758_1Renowned Explorers, (which I will call RE because I can never spell Renowned on my first try) is a computer game about managing a team of three adventurers to go explore strange lands for fame, glory, money and all of their treasure. It is set in a vague time period that might be the 19th century but is certainly far more interesting than any real time period in our mundane world. Along the way, you may encounter scary cultists, aggressive pirates, friendly natives and really mean llamas.

Technically, RE is everything I look for in a game. For one thing, it is turn based which is great for my slowing reflexes. Second, it is procedurely generated which means no two expeditions to the same place plays out the same way. There will almost always be something new to discover. Third, you pick a team of three out of twenty distinct adventurers, each with their own personalities, strengths, weaknesses and interactions with each other. These characters grow with experience and you choose the skills they learn. In other words, this game plays a lot like a tabletop miniatures or RPG game.

The other high point is the approach to combat. If you tire of endless killing things, RE  feels your pain. For every fight, you can either fight your way out, be super nice to people and befriend them or be a jerk and insult/terrify your way through an encounter. This creates a rock/paper/scissors approach that I was dubious of at first but found it to be wonderfully complex as you dive deeper into it. There are advantages and disadvantages to both but it allows you to play a game that changes depending on what you are in the mood to do.

Of course, the most important thing about this game is that it is fun. There is a lot of self aware explorer humor in this game, and the way it treats indigenous people is a delight. You will encounter Necromancers who act like small children. Beware of the mocking monkeys. Be prepared to tell a lot of jokes to the Witch Doctor.

There is a DLC for it that I highly recommend as it adds campfire stories to the game. These stories further flesh out the already fascinating explorers.

This is one of my most played computer games for 2016 and I suspect I will be playing a lot of it in 2017 as well.