Steam NextFest October 2021 – More Please!

Following up from its predecessor last June, Steam has launched another NextFest to celebrate the beginning of this autumn. Running from October 1st through October 7th and featuring hundreds of upcoming indie games, it’s a really impressive undertaking so soon after the last event. I wonder (And honestly, very much hope) if these are meant to happen every season from now on?

Plenty of games to talk about here! While I’m sure there are many titles I haven’t even seen, as follows is a list of some of the games that I’m looking forward to seeing more of.

Who’s Lila? by Garage Heathen

A reverse-adventure game where we control the characters’ actions through the expressions on their faces.

Next Space Rebels by Studio Floris Kaayk – Published by Humble Games

Get into the hobby of building and launching rockets to space and follow this game’s story about the path to greatness through reinvention.

Puppet Play VR by Unechte Sachen

Put on your own puppet show with your own two hands in VR with this toolset.

A Musical Story by Glee-Cheese Studio, published by Digerati

Uncover memories through 70s rock styled music in this rhythm based adventure.

Strange Horticulture by Bad Viking, published by Iceberg Interactive

Find and identify strange plants to uncover a town’s mystery.

The ‘Venice VR Expanded’ Festival is Incredible!

This is my first year delving into the VR scene, and goodness, I am thrilled about all of the cool projects that I’ve been finding. Most notably is the Venice VR Expanded Festival of 2020 as put on the famous La Biennale di Venezia Film Festival. This VR Expanded Festival is huge! It really just inspires me for the future of the virtual reality scene. There are so many well told stories on display with such a wide diversity of flavors and genres and creators.

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What’s the Deal with These Ancient Steam User Reviews?

I’m a big fan of browsing user reviews pretty much anywhere I can find them. I love the idea of finding people with review-brains like mine that just want to critique, ramble, and gossip about every media possible. Steam User Reviews have proven a great source of entertainment for me, bringing me much joy and frustration reading the reviews of both the talented and the first-time writers. But Steam User Reviews work around a lot of algorithms to try and give people the best idea of whether a game is worth buying or not. Or that was the idea anyways. I’ve recently found a great example of how the Steam User Review system is currently broken in the store page for the game Dead Effect 2 VR, and I will explain how I believe Steam can go about solving these issues to make a more efficient store experience. 

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What’s the Deal With: iOS Game Saves?

I’ve loved covering Apple Arcade games since the beginning of 2020 when I first reviewed Lego Builder’s Journey. I’m quite proud of the reviews and editorials I’ve been doing this year, and I’m proud of the work Apple Arcade has been doing with their platform – but I think we both have room for improvement. I’ve already talked about how developers and Apple need to be working together more on hyping up their games to the press and the public, so now I would like to talk specifically about game library functionality.

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‘Why Can’t I Find Anything to Play on Apple Arcade?’ – On iOS Marketing

I recently subscribed to Apple Arcade and have been loving playing through their huge library of indie games. There are a ton of great titles on their platform, but it can be a little frustrating to pitch it to friends. Their argument has been that they could only find a game or two on the library, and then unsubscribed out of boredom.

But here’s the thing – there are over a hundred games on there, almost all of them from established indie game creators with relatively solid reviews. Logically there are more than a couple enjoyable games to spend time with on Apple Arcade, so why aren’t people finding them? I believe this comes down to Apple not promoting their games enough.

To be fair to the tech giant, so many games on the App Store are either sponsored and promoted as advertisements for hugely profitable mobile games, or they have been indie games reliant on word of mouth to really take off. Apple Arcade of course, is in the middle – sure Apple is behind it all, but I feel like the indie developers have been put in charge of their own self-promotion. And honestly, not all indies do exceedingly well at marketing.

An example for my theory comes from my time writing about Dear Reader, one of my favorite games I’ve played through the service so far. The App Store entry for the game was well written and had screenshots and all that potential players need to decide if the game’s worth trying, but outside the App Store the game’s marketing was entirely on the developer’s website. I had to find images for my article on the developer’s presskit page that they had created using a popular website addon.

The fact the developers apparently had to find and create their own tools for marketing tells me that maybe Apple isn’t all that involved. And I just want to know, why the heck not?

I think there are a few things Apple needs to do to help its new Arcade platform flourish. The biggest thing is they need to look outside their own bubble to other successful platforms. We need something like Steam’s Discovery Queue, a tool that shows people games they probably haven’t played yet. Just as important is the need to show players what is coming to the platform.

As of writing this, a game or two is released a week on Apple Arcade, with no real schedule or promotion beforehand. The game LEGO Builder’s Journey released the week before Christmas, and almost no one I talked to had even noticed its existence. This is insanity; it’s a LEGO game, a franchise that myself and many others adore, being minimally marketed and only highlighted as a spot in the new releases section of the store. Apple one hundred percent needs to be telling us about what to expect, what to be excited for, and most importantly, why we should remain subscribed.

I really am admiring the effort Apple has made to support indie games with Apple Arcade. So please, Apple, don’t mess it up.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter!

Assassin’s Creed Origins Won Me Over By Having a Main Character with a Social Life

Assassins’s Creed Origins is the latest entry in the huge series of historical scifi games from Ubisoft studios. Since the game’s release this past October, press have praised the game for its portrayal of Egypt, improved combat and exploration mechanics, and its quest design. I agree with all of this, and think Origins is an above-average game, even for a company as large as Ubisoft. What really makes the game great however, is that its main character Bayek has a social life.

 

Almost all of the Assassin’s Creed games tell the story of the faction warfare existing between the good (assassins) and the bad (templars.) So of course Origins, a game set before the point in the lore when everyone was at each other’s throats, would rely less on tropes about the main characters being brainwashed by those who came before them. To oversimplify things, before Bayek was a master assassin he was similar to a sheriff in Old Western movies, keeping the peace in and around his village as a guard appointed by the pharoah.

 

 

As we play the game, we learn that Bayek has friends and acquaintances scattered all throughout Egypt. Every old acquaintance is introduced differently, anywhere from a hearty “Hey ol’ buddy” to a respectful “Oh man… Not this guy again.” At one point we meet one of Bayek’s old rivals from his childhood, a man who tried to win over Bayek’s love before they were together. The reason this feels special in Origins, is when in comparison to previous AC games where we always got the impression that their protagonists lives before assassinating didn’t matter. By seeing the impact Bayek’s previous and current actions leave on Egypt, we really get a sense that Assassins Creed Origins is a world people lived in

Why Does ‘Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus’ Need So Many Collectibles?

I’ve been playing Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus the past few days. It’s a pretty competent shooter, I’m definitely enjoying it. Mind you, this is after I reduced the difficulty to the easiest setting just so I could get through the earlier levels. But I’m not here for a full review, so I’m not worried about my poor skills getting in the way of my enjoyment or understanding of the game. I am, however, concerned about a bit of weirdness I’ve been noticing in my playthrough.

Every time I’ve properly explored a level, I’ve found the areas littered with things to find. But the thing is, I kept finding more different types of collectibles, from gold bars to enigma codes, to readable snippets of news. So of course, I checked out some online guides to see just how much there was to collect. And looking at the results, I’m a bit confused, because holy hell there is a lot to find.

There are eight different types of collectibles scattered through the game. Some will give ingame benefits, others are things to look at, and then there’s just shiny crap we find on the floor. The types of collectibles we can find in the game are..

  • 20 Upgrade Kits.
  • 50 pieces of Concept Art.
  • 75 Star Cards.
  • 15 Toys.
  • 10 Records.
  • 50 Gold Bars.
  • So many Newspaper Clippings there isn’t even an achievement for finding them all.
  • Too Many Enigma Codes. Seriously, they even respawn every mission reattempt, and you can actually lose them if you don’t invest them wisely.

So my question, is why the hell did Machine Games feel compelled to fill their game with shallow reasons to revisit levels? It makes me really sad, because New Colossus really should be able to stand up on its own without overcompensating. This feels like an attempt to suit the players who would complain about not having a thirty hour experience. To be fair, I’m probably being a hypocrite about this sort of  gimmicky game style, especially after spending so many damn hours in MMOs collecting various mounts and achievements.

Personally I think collectibles should be kept to games where the player is able to revisit their locations without playing through the same exact sequence of events again. So please, developers, keep your assorted bullshit items to sandboxes, MMOs, and metroidvanias.

Tell me your  thoughts on linear games with a shitload of collectibles on Twitter.

What’s the Deal with Steam Trading Cards?

So what’s the deal with Steam Trading Cards?

Steam Trading Cards are becoming everything wrong with Steam and Valve as a whole these days.

…?

Oh, you were serious? Since launching in 2005, Valve, Steam’s development company, have been making a lot of changes to try encouraging their community to interact with each other, all while spending more money.  Steam’s trading card system is the accumulation of these attempts to create a community-driven storefront for games. Basically the trading card system is a meta-game people engage in to fill their wallets, up their ego, or sometimes to support their favorite developers.

 

The premise of the system is fairly straightforward – There are thousands of games on Steam, and many of them support trading cards. Each one that does comes with a set of digital/imaginary cards that might unlock for the player while that game is being played. The goal is to complete sets of these cards to unlock a badge on their account’s profile page, visible for all to see and appreciate.

Players can’t just immediately unlock badges after playing their game. Each account can only receive roughly half the number of cards for each game’s badge requirement, leading us to the community market to find the rest. Participants intending to craft a badge can buy the rest of their set from other players, usually for about ten cents per card.

So I can sell my extra cards to other players for Steam credit? Sounds great!

It does, doesn’t it? Steam implemented this system with the pitch that gamers could wear badges of support on their profiles for their favorite developers. While I don’t have specific numbers, I imagine that’s how most Steam users interact with trading cards. It really is a great idea – developers and Valve both get a cut of whatever you sell your cards for. Some people can have a fun economic activity that doesn’t involve internet spaceships, and people have a small source of Steam credit to buy games.

 

But why do people want so many badges?

After crafting a badge for a game, the player will unlock an emoticon that can be used in Steam chats and forums, a background for their profile page, a game coupon, and one hundred experience points. Earning experience points will level a player up, and after ten levels new content can be displayed on their profiles. People who have invested in the trading card scene will often use their upgraded Steam pages as portfolios for their trading activities, by linking to sites like SteamRep and SteamTrades. Some people are so deep into the trading card world their badge levels are in triple digits.

How do people get to that point?

Have you noticed all those bundle sites that sell half a dozen games for like, a dollar? People will buy those cheap games and farm the trading cards from them. They’ll do this using Steam farming tools like Steam Achievement Manager, or most popular, Archi’s Steam Farm. The latter actually allows players to plug their Steam account into a program that will trick Valve into thinking the eligible games are running in order to unlock cards.

Steam has frankly spent a strange amount of energy on how they limit the usage of these sorts of tools. We can obviously assume that Valve wants us to be spending money on trading cards – they do get their cut after all. Things get tricky once players start farming on secondary accounts created specifically for farming though. With limits on how many trades you can make, especially in the first few months of your account’s creation, it seems like Valve doesn’t want players to be buying extra copies of games just to farm them.

 

Though to be fair, this may be partly because of their efforts to stop scammers who take advantage of the lucrative loot drops in games like Counter Strike Global Offensive and Dota 2. One thing Valve has made clear is that farming games that use their anti cheat system VAC, will earn you negative marks on your VAC account.

It sounds like trading cards are a niche community that’s only effect is profit to developers and Valve. So what’s the problem?

The trading card system does look great on paper. But as you give people a means of profit, you also give them motive to cheat and scam the system. Valve recently published a statement, claiming that a growing number of developers were releasing raw or unfinished games with trading card support, in effort to farm and profit from these half-games and the trading card community. This is done through a series of sketchy business practices that really epitomize what sort of place Steam has become.

For example, a publisher of these fake games might promise keys for their games to people in exchange for a vote on Steam’s Greenlight game submission platform. The publisher will put their cheaply made game on Steam with trading card support with literally no attempts to sell the game. Then they will put the game in a game bundle for a crazy cheap price with a dozen other games. People interested in making a small amount of easy Steam credit will subsequently farm those games and sell them to people who want to craft them into badges, or convert them to gems that can be used to craft specific cards. The gems can be sold, of course, so there’s a decent profit to be made all around from the fake publisher.

In the recent blog post Valve made on the trading card situation, Valve also accused these kinda-publishers of making hundreds of accounts and farming their own cards for themselves. This is, of course, entirely possible with how lightweight ASF is. Valve announced plans to implement a system that will help stop these scammers, by adding a system that will decide if a game is popular enough to be eligible for trading cards, despite a developer adding support for the now common function. This is problematic for a number of reasons.

It seems Valve want to do the minimal amount of work possible on Steam, always encouraging their users to create content. This is understandable given the massive growth the storefront has undergone since its launch in 2004. However,I doubt anyone will be happy with this solution. People have been criticizing Steam for allowing too many games to be on Steam, or that it’s too restrictive to small or newer game developers. This decision fails to appease either side, seemingly saying both “We don’t care what you add to the store,” and “You need to be successful before you can be successful,” all while screwing over indie games with small player bases.

The reasoning for Valve’s announcement makes some sense; these card farmers must certainly affect the metric for if a game’s popular. If forty-eight of fifty people playing Bad Rats are letting it run idle for trading cards, it must be hard to figure out if it’s recommendable to players. Valve needs to figure out an alternate solution to this issue, or at least communicate with their community on ways to solve it.

 

It really would be a bummer if this weird and obsessive and cool community of trading card people was to fracture because less popular game developers had no incentive to even add support for the feature.

Sam Adonis is passionate about a number of things, including MMO’s, Theodore Roosevelt, indie games and disability advocacy. You can find him on Twitter at IndieSamAdonis

 

Originally posted to IndieGamerTeam on May 18th, 2017.

Whatever Happened to IndieGameStand?

IndieGameStand.com was a website founded to be a competitor to things like the Humble Bundle store or GamersGate. It would allow a wider range of games than Steam would at the time and be more accessible and profitable for game developers. The original owner of IndieGameStand even maintained a blog, which you may be familiar with for breaking the news about how bad key scammers like G2A were.

……..

IndieGameStand is still down. Developers have not been able to access their earnings, or gamers able to access their games. People enrolled in the once reputable storefront’s monthly curation service are even unable to cancel their subscriptions. Concerned customers have been trying to find contact info for the owner of the site for weeks now, which you can read about on Steam. There has been little luck in this pursuit. Everything’s gone, and the owner is in the wind.

This is crazy levels of frustrating, not only as someone who used to love IndieGameStand, but as a fan of alternatives to Steam. If anyone has any more insight as to solutions for S.O.L. gamers and developers, please let me know so I can update this post.

For full disclosure, I spent a few months writing for IndieGameStand’s blog with the original owners, and as a social media rep, on websites like Reddit.com/r/GameDeals

Originally posted to IndieGamerTeam on September 14th, 2017.

‘Elder Scrolls Morrowind’ – On Vivec City and its lore

One of my favorite things about Elder Scrolls Online as an MMORPG is the richness of its universe. The developers managed to take this huge existing setting from the previous Elder Scrolls games and give us this powerful connection to it, all through a combination of dialog with random non-player characters, excerpts of books we read in-game, and of course via the many quests. One of my favorite details of the game is epitomized in the new zone added in the game’s latest DLC, regarding Vivec City and the giant rocks floating directly above it.

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Much of the lore maintains this element of the unknown, especially to its mythology. Most people in its world don’t actually know what is true and what is just a rumor, especially when it comes to things outside their daily lives. This theme of people spreading rumors and trying to understand this bizarre world they live in is an aspect that feels really striking in Elder Scrolls Online. As we explore Vivec City and its surrounding areas, we find a number of books and people who theorize why Vivec, the glowing mayor of his own city, chose to begin construction underneath Baar Dau, a mysterious meteor suspended in the air above the city.

My favorite interaction in Vvardenfell regarding Baar Dau was actually reading an ingame thesis paper written by some scholar attempting to discern meaning in Vivec’s intentional recklessness with the location of his new city. The writer briefly described a rumor that Baar Dau was a bigass rock thrown by Sheogorath, a Daedric Prince that represents madness and “mental weakness” to the native dark elves. The scholar then went on to describe how the meteor was a physical representation of their peoples’ faith in Vivec and his fellow Tribunal members. The paper’s author even made an assumption that if the people of Morrowind were to cease their devotion to the Warrior Poet, he would simply allow Baar Dau to crush them all.

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There are plenty of other instances of the writers of Elder Scrolls playing with the citizens of Tamriel having multiple versions of mythologies. As in real life, the further back we go into history, the more obscure or diverse myths become. It’s a world building technique that does an excellent job giving each of the many cultures in Tamriel their own little personalities.