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Just a quick note to let you know that if you're a PC gamer and have Steam installed, and you have any fond memories of first person shooters the way they used to be done - the DOOMs, the Duke Nukems (well, really just the one Duke Nukem...) - Serious Sam: Episode 1 HD is on sale this weekend for under $7 on Steam, and based on the couple of hours I've spent with it, it's worth checking out.

If you didn't play Serious Sam when it was new back in 2001, it was considered a throwback of sorts even then; it's a very different animal from what first person shooters have become.  Serious Sam has no cover mechanic, no squad tactics.  Most of the weapons don't even have a reload animation, because you just fire them until you're out of bullets.  This is not a bad thing.  This game is not about sophisticated AI (they're mostly completely braindead), or stealth, or careful aiming or ammo conservation.  It's about being rushed by hundreds of enemies and frantically dodging while holding down the trigger until they stop coming.

In that respect, I suppose it might share more with Left 4 Dead than it does with any other modern shooter.  But basically, Serious Sam has always been a revamped DOOM, and that's what it still is in this high-def update.  They haven't changed the level design, or the bad guys, or the guns.  What that leaves us with, though, is all the things that were great about Serious Sam 8 years ago - the crazy enemies, the over-the-top weapons, the absolutely huge outdoor environments - but with much prettier graphics, 16 player(!) online co-op, Steam achievements, Steam cloud support, and nicely implemented ragdoll physics.  That's a formula you can't get anywhere else right now, and $7 is, I think, a very reasonable price.  It looks good and runs like a dream on my not-top-of-the-line rig, and fighting through it with a friend is time and money well spent.  If that sounds like your bag, you've got the rest of today to get it cheap before it goes back to $20 tomorrow.


Free and Worth Every Penny - Issue 28

You know, to be honest, I was a little torn about what to bring out for this week's installment of Free and Worth Every Penny.  I really enjoyed the multi-game roundup that Mike gave us for Christmas, and there's already been enough cool looking Flash stuff pulling my eyes to it since the first of the year that we could probably justify another one of those.  But I'm going to hold off, let that simmer on the back burner for awhile and maybe let the best flavors rise to the top first.  For now, let us look forward.  Let us look to Spring.

It's crappy out right now.  There's snow and sleet damn near everywhere, and it's cold, and everything's dead.  But it won't be that way forever!  No, the fine folks over at 2DBoy know better.  (Yeah, mention the developers of World of Goo and suddenly I have your attention, don't I?)  They know that soon, new plants will tentatively poke out of the soil, ready to stretch to the heavens, devouring people to feed themselves as they avoid falling, exploding rocks.

That doesn't sound like Spring, you say?  How little you know.  Enter:

Technically, Sunshine is the product of only half of 2DBoy - specifically, Kyle Gabler.  Its connection to World of Goo, however, is clear the moment you begin playing.  Gabler's visual style is immediately recognizable - which I suppose could be a negative if you aren't fond of it, but since I was a huge fan of the sights and sounds of World of Goo, I'm delighted to have even just a little bit more.

Posted over at the Experimental Gameplay Project (which Mr Gabler helped to create), Sunshine is a tiny prototype of a game, especially when compared to something like Goo, but it manages to pack quite a bit of addictive high-score chasing into a simple concept.  Using the mouse, the player controls a vine reaching up from the ground to grow as tall as it can before it runs out of energy, which it continually loses as it grows.

Energy can only be replenished by sprouting flowers - which is to say, by using the mouse to draw loops around the tiny people falling constantly from the heavens like so many human Tetrominoes.  Snag more than one at a time, and you're rewarded with a combo bonus and more energy.  As you grow higher, the people begin falling faster, making it continually more difficult to keep your energy reserve filled.

In addition, you must deal with falling rocks (which look strangely like explosive mines, but hey, I'm already growing flowers by eating people here, so fine);  let one of these hit you, and you're docked energy and points.  You can defend against these rocks, however, by sending air bubbles up to catch them - make a loop without any people in it, and a giant bubble is sent skyward to ensnare any rock it intercepts.  (Be aware, it'll also catch people, potentially robbing you of points.)

It isn't all that complicated, but there's just enough depth there to hook you for awhile as you try to best your high score with a taller vine and a higher combo count.  In addition to the visual style for which 2DBoy so quickly became known, Sunshine's audio also lives up to Kyle's previous work, with delightful music and playful sounds.


  • reminds me of the tower mode of World of Goo, a bit.
  • okay, obviously reminds me of World of Goo in several ways.
  • still manages to stake out its own quirky identity.
  • provided me with a good half hour of fun trying to improve my score.

A gameplay tip:  I had much more success drawing tight vertical loops than horizontal ones.  It seems the bigger a loop gets, the less likely the game will accept it and grant you flowers for it.

The download for Sunshine is a reasonable 10 MB, and runs on Windows.  Go check it out here.

One more quick note before I go:  The latest version of Spelunky is out, and you should go get it.  If you somehow haven't played Spelunky yet, it's one of the best freeware games of last year (or any year), and you must.  If there's ever a "freeware you need on every machine" FWEP feature, Spelunky will be on that list.

Okay, I'm done.  Get on outta' here.

"Free And Worth Every Penny" is a column I collaborate on with Mike Bellmore at Immortal Machines. This piece also appears there.


Some Links, Some Promises to Myself

Hello!  My apologies for being absent for the last couple of weeks; my wife and I spent the Christmas holiday in Northern PA at the cabin her parents-in-law own, and while I did have internet access, all I had for gaming was my netbook, which honesty can't handle much more than some simple flash games, so I didn't have much exciting to say.  I did find a few fun flash games to play, though, and I'll link to those shortly.

Before I get to that, though, mostly for my own edification, I want to make note of some of the excellent games I started and did not finish this year, in hopes that I will wrap them up early next year.  They deserve to be seen through to the end.

  • Batman: Arkham Asylum - The single best melee combat engine I've ever seen outside of a fighting game, hands down, wrapped up in an atmospheric and well-written game in the Batman franchise, of all places - a franchise known specifically for terrible games in almost every case.  One of the best surprises of the year.
  • Assassin's Creed II - This one has its hooks sunk deep in me right now, and I was playing it pretty much non-stop before we went on vacation.  I'll be getting back into it starting tonight, and will probably wrap it up this week or next.  I loved the first game, and while the sequel feels a little less focused, it also expands the fiction in some really neat ways I didn't expect, and gives you so much more to do (and so much of it enjoyable) that in every important way, it's an even better game.
  • Torchlight (with at least one character class) - I've written a bunch about Torchlight already, and it's not the sort of game you really finish, but I should complete the main quest line with at least one character just to see everything it has to offer.  I'm sure it's one I'll be going back to again, hopefully before the MMO counterpart arrives.
  • Red Faction: Guerrilla - I have absolutely no interest in the plot of RFG, or the characters; all of that is generic in every way.  But I have every interest in earning all of the upgrades to allow me to wreak havoc more effectively on every building erected on the Martian landscape.  For my money, the best use of a physics engine in a game to date - yes, better than Half-Life 2.
  • Dragon Age - Who am I kidding?  I'm never going to finish Dragon Age.  I sure would like to, though.
  • New Super Mario Bros Wii - Meghan and I should have this wrapped up soon, at least in terms of beating the standard game.  Whether we'll manage to collect every star coin or not, who can say, but it's already been a really fun ride and I'm looking forward to trying.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks - I'm that guy who really liked Phantom Hourglass, even with its frequent trips to the Dungeon of Repetition, so making my way through Spirit Tracks (which has no such thing) is a no-brainer.  I wish it didn't rely so heavily on the DS microphone, which I find finicky at best, but that won't keep me from finishing it.

Alright, that's already looking like a somewhat daunting list, especially considering that Red Steel 2 will be out early next year, along with a crop of other stuff I'm not even thinking about right now, so I'll stop there.  If I can make it through most of that, I'll feel like I didn't do the games of 2009 too great an injustice.

If you want to hear me talk about some other games of the year, the most recent episode of the Immortal Machines podcast has, I think, some good discussion on the topic, and the one we just recorded last night about the completely insane sales Steam, Direct2Drive, etc have been running this month should also turn out worth a listen when it gets posted, so keep an eye out for it.

And now, for suffering through my rambling, your reward:  if you haven't found these little time-wasters on some other corner of the Internet yet, consider them a late Christmas gift, and enjoy.

Santa Fu

A pretty hilarious re-skin of the NES classic Kung-Fu, this will probably only entertain you for 20 minutes (unless you really liked Kung-Fu, and hey, nothing wrong with that), but I think I can safely say it'll be a good 20 minutes.

Mountain Maniac

I wasn't aware that Adult Swim made videogames, but I guess when they're not making extremely inappropriate cartoons, this is what they do.  Fine by me - two parts pachinko, one part Grand Theft Auto (well, just the part where you evade cops, really), Mountain Maniac sees you wreaking havoc on a mountain village by chucking boulders down from the peak.  Strangely, more than anything else it reminded me of Atari's Crackpots, the game that probably cemented my hatred of spiders forever.

Goddamned spiders.

And finally, an oldie but goodie...


Pretty much everything over at Orisinal is delightful - they have a ton of very well crafted Flash games, and I recommend you check all of them out.  They've been around for years, but surprisingly few people seem to know about them.  For the season, though, Winterbells is a joy to play.  Peaceful and relaxing, while still being challenging to the point of mild addiction.  Don't worry, the bunny will be safe even if he falls.

To give credit where it's due, some of these gems were dug up by Mike Bellmore over at Immortal Machines, and I thank him for passing them along.  I hope everybody has a great New Year's celebration this week; see you in 2010.


Free and Worth Every Penny - Issue 25

Hey everybody! Usually, this is where I introduce a new freeware game to you, but this week I have a different idea: let's take a roadtrip.  I mean, it's the holiday season, I'm sure we've all got vacation time saved up at work, or time off from school if that's your thing, and none of us are getting any younger.

I hear Oregon is nice this time of year.  Yeah, Oregon!  I've got this covered wagon sitting out back that isn't getting any use; we could hitch an ox or two to that thing and I bet we'd be there in only a few months.  Sure, some of us will probably get dysentery, and fording some of those rivers can be a bitch, but once you get there... hunh.  You know, actually, I never really thought about it, but once you get there, you're just in Oregon.  I mean, you risked disease and death in a rickety stinking wagon for months, and you went to Oregon?   Tell you what...

This is going to be a brief writeup, because there isn't a whole lot you need to know about F* Oregon, Let's Go Find El Dorado (which from this point on I will abbreviate as "So Long Oregon", which is what appears in the window title when you launch the game).  It's the touching story of Pa, Ma, Boobell, John-Boy and Zeke - yes, really - a hapless wagon-bound crew desperately in need of your protection on their journey, which plays out very similarly to the quite familiar classic, Oregon Trail.

...Okay, that was obviously a complete and total lie.  So Long Oregon plays out the way Oregon Trail might, if it were actually a reskinned version of Excitebike.  A randomly generated set of mountains, towns, Indian villages and rivers present themselves on a scrolling track, across which you will haphazardly bounce your way to success or - much more likely - dismal failure.

Tipping your wagon upside down and being unable to right it again will lead to an injury for one of your family ("Pa has broken an arm!" or, much harder to connect with an upside-down wagon, "John-Boy has typhoid!"), but the absurd and hilarious physics engine ensures that your hundreds-of-miles-per-hour 720-degree flips will land on their wheels as often as not.  Also hilarious: the oxen noises whenever your wagon has a particularly harsh landing, or hits an obstacle it can't surmount.  Poor oxen.  The towns, trading posts, etc along the way will help you... unless they don't.  Survive long enough, and El Dorado awaits!  Or so you've been told.  I don't want to spoil what you'll find at the ending.

So Long Oregon was a competitor in the 16th Ludum Dare contest, in which a game must be entirely completed in 48 hours.  It was the entry of Justin Smith ("crackerblocks"), who also wrote Enviro-Bear 2000 for TIGSource's Cockpit Compo, if you happened to catch that when the internet was giving it love earlier this year (and if you didn't, you should).  Voting on Ludum Dare entries is currently ongoing, and I am not eligible to vote - only competitors are - but while I haven't played most of the other entries, I have to imagine this is a strong contender.

F* Oregon, Let's Go Find El Dorado is...

  • absolutely ridiculous.
  • good for several laughs.
  • occasionally frustrating, but over too quickly for it to matter.
  • a tiny download you should not miss, especially if you grew up playing Oregon Trail.
The download for this will only set you back a few MB - Windows only.  Go check it out here.

"Free And Worth Every Penny" is a column I collaborate on with Mike Bellmore at Immortal Machines. This piece also appears there.


Free and Worth Every Penny - Issue 24

As gamers, it's understood that we usually sit down at our monitors, TV's, controllers, mice and keyboards looking for a challenge.  We want to finish the level; conquer our neighbor; beat the boss; kill the bad guy; win the race; collect all the Pokemans; hit the level cap.

Video games have trained us to do these things from their earliest incarnation, and certainly many of the titles featured in Free and Worth Every Penny - especially recently - have been pretty challenging affairs.  Between the frantic pace of RunMan and Igneous, the kill-or-be-killed Darwinism of Captain Forever, and the 8-bit punishment of Star Guard, I feel like maybe we all need to take five.

So let's relax.  Sometimes all you want to do is be an elephant gardener, you know?  ...Maybe you don't know.  That's okay, that's why I'm here.

We've got another Digipen release for you this week, though compared to our last selection from them, it's a horse of a different color.  Or rather, an elephant of many different colors.

Once upon a solemn day,
Rosie the elephant awoke in dismay.
Stumbling up from the cold barren ground,
She rubbed her eyes and peered all around.

Standing small, just ahead,
A tiny tree stood—not quite dead.
With nothing but raindrops and seeds at hand,
Young Rosie set out to bring life back to the land.

Kabloom presents the player (and Rosie) with a desolate wasteland, several barren islands floating in the sky, strung together by platforms and bridges.  Only a tiny tree sits in the center of the largest island, and a single drop of water falls to terra firma, this strange and lonely land's last hope.

Using a basic but effective physics engine and some very straightforward controls, Rosie is tasked with turning this barren landscape into a teeming paradise of the player's design.  Blowing water drops into trees causes them to grow; a large enough tree will drop a seed.  Take the seed wherever you like and plant it, and a sapling sprouts, waiting to be watered so the cycle can repeat.  Before long, empty dirt is replaced by waving grass and flowers, and majestic trees begin to produce fruit, the acquisition of which is the game's only tangible goal.

Now, to be honest, there isn't a whole lot to do aside from the mild exploration and the creativity of filling in the space, so it's a good thing that it's over pretty much whenever you want it to be.  Collect one of each type of fruit, and you're done; this can take an hour or 10 minutes depending on how long you want to mess around.  (A warning: the moment you've collected all the fruit, the game ends, so avoid doing that if you want to keep planting new trees.)

There isn't much else to say, really.  Kabloom feels a bit like the FLUDD levels of Mario Sunshine, if only because of the spraying mechanic and the fact that you're taking something ugly and making it prettier, but the simpler, more accurate analogy is probably that of a coloring book: you are given a blank space, and you fill it with color as you see fit.  It isn't demanding, isn't frustrating, isn't particularly goal-oriented.  I played through the game twice, once very quickly and then again to make sure I'd seen everything, and while I probably won't go back I was glad for the experience.  The five-man "Death of Games" team from Digipen clearly had free-form, player-directed gameplay as their design edict, but it is a shame their sandbox doesn't have more toys in it.

Kabloom is unquestionably a casual game, a short zenlike experiment of a title, and you could easily make the argument that it's more for your little sister or brother than for you, but I found it unique and enjoyable enough to share.  This is neither a deep nor a difficult game, but it is a pleasant one.  Sometimes I think that's good enough.

Kabloom is:

  • charming and whimsical.
  • leisurely paced.
  • creatively engaging.
  • over quickly, which would make me sad... if there were more there.

Kabloom is an 80MB download for Windows PC's - go check it out here.

"Free And Worth Every Penny" is a column I collaborate on with Mike Bellmore at Immortal Machines. This piece also appears there.