Tag Archives: oldTBW

The Last One

It’s been several months since we last connected, but I feel like it’s time to end the silence and touch base with you all once more. In short, The Bonus World as it stands is on an indefinite hiatus. I’ve given this a lot of thought and while I would love nothing more than to be able to continue this site, life has happened and continues to do so.

I know I promised a return for the Game of the Year season, but that’s not happening. If you’re curious, I really enjoyed Psychonauts 2 and Halo Infinite, and I also thought Bowser’s Fury was pretty neat for what it was. So like, those three things are probably on the list that doesn’t exist.

As for the site, I just don’t have the time nor the ability to keep it going. The nine-to-five grind has really been tough for me to adjust to and hasn’t afforded much in the way of free time, whether it be for the site or for my own personal hobbies. Like, I don’t even get to play that many video games anymore, and my group and I haven’t come together for D&D in weeks. It’s gotten really hard to juggle everything in my life, and I’ve had to prioritize certain things over others.

It also didn’t help that my computer finally kicked the bucket once and for all. Hence why there’s no lightly Photoshopped image accompanying this post. That was a big momentum killer for sure.

I guess the biggest thing to mention is that I’m finally leaving New York. At the beginning of next year, I’ll be making the biggest change I’ve ever made in my life, and preparing for that has dominated most of my free time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited for this change, but I’m also absolutely petrified of the myriad of uncertainties that come with it.

Maybe one day The Bonus World will return in some form, but it’s just not in the cards right now. So I want to thank everyone who has ever helped me work on this site in whatever aspect they did. I’m so grateful to have people in my life who were willing to go along with this weird hobby of mine. I also want to thank you, the reader, for indulging me for so long and being supportive. From every comment to every view, words cannot truly express just how thankful I am to you. You mean more to me than I could ever properly convey.

So from the bottom of my heart, thank you. Maybe 2022 will be better, but I’m remaining skeptical for now. Regardless, good luck out there, be kind to one-another, and stay safe.

– Ari

Blog: Changes – 08/25/21

I’ve been trying to put off this blog post for as long as I could, but there’s no more delaying the inevitable. This blog post will be the last one in this format. For as much as I’ve enjoyed putting up weekly content, there’s no denying that it’s gotten harder for me to maintain the pace, let alone the enthusiasm required to produce something worth reading with this regularity. But it doesn’t mean that The Bonus World is over, far from it actually. But this is going to be an adjustment.

Going forward, there won’t be anymore weekly blogs. While disappointing at first blush, it’s actually probably the best call for both the website and myself. If you’ve followed the site with any regularity (thanks for that by the way), you’ve probably noticed a tremendous dip in both the variety of content and the quality of it. While external factors are certainly at play here, the blog has become this bare minimum of content that doesn’t feel interesting or necessary anymore. It also cannibalizes a ton of other articles I could write, because it’s such a nebulous and wide bucket that just about anything could fall into.

It’s led to me getting complacent and bored with my own output here, which isn’t fair to my readers and isn’t fair to me. I find myself scrambling every Tuesday to think of anything I could write about in the hopes that by the next week I’ll have some actual inspiration to review something or whatever, but that never happens. I’m trapped in this vicious cycle with the blog where as long as I put something up on Wednesday, I can basically forget about the site. That’s a shitty way of operating the site, but it’s how things fell into place for me.

I also want to write other stuff on this site without having to hit this weekly deadline I’ve arbitrarily imposed on myself. The way I see it, if I can free up that energy from having to just put something up on the site and channel that into writing a thing that’s actually interesting, well that’s a win for me. I just hate seeing what I’ve allowed the blog to devolve into, which is just this weekly rambling that people continue to read for some reason. Thanks for that by the way.

But here’s the thing, the blog isn’t dying, it’s just not going to be weekly anymore. It’s going to arrive when it feels right and there’s something worth writing about that probably won’t be about video games. But with this scheduling and content change comes the other bit of news that’s probably a bit harder to deal with, and that’s the fact that it’s gonna be pretty quiet around here for a while.

On top of the content not interesting me, I’ve just been incredibly burnt out. I need to step away from writing about video games for a bit so I can recenter myself and regain that enthusiasm I once had. I plan on popping back in here from time to time to drop a review or something, but there won’t be much regularity to it for a while.

This is hard for me because I really love writing for this site, but it deserves so much better than what I’m giving it. So in my eyes the best decision is to essentially take a hiatus and let the inspiration come back to me. So that’s kind of it then for a while. If you wanna know when the site posts more stuff, you can punch in your email on the left side of the homepage to sign up for the “newsletter,” which is basically just an alert system for when this site posts something, or you can follow the very silent The Bonus World Twitter account which will also keep you posted about what’s going on.

The one thing I will say is that I do intend on doing Game of the Year stuff, so worst case scenario is that’s the first time you hear from me in a while, but I don’t think it’ll be that long before I return.

But yeah, that’s it for me gang. Thanks for rolling with me for so long. It’s time for a change, and unfortunately that change is going to take time. Stay safe out there everyone. I’ll see you soon.


Blog: Rogue Strife – 08/18/21

I’ve mentioned in the past how the entire roguelike/roguelite genre of games are essentially incompatible with me as a person, but knowing that hasn’t stopped me from giving last year’s critically acclaimed Hades another shot when it released on Game Pass a few days ago. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about with Hades while possibly seeing if the, “it’s a roguelike for people who don’t like roguelikes” claim had any truth to it, and possibly changing my first impression with the game last year. Ultimately, I didn’t end up falling in love with the genre or Hades at all. I think I can explain it though.

I’ve tried so many roguelikes over the years, desperately trying to find my way into enjoying anything about these games. From Spelunky to The Binding of Isaac and more, none of the games managed to grip me in any meaningful way. In the case of The Binding of Isaac, I just found the whole vibe of that game pretty gross and repugnant, which cut my playing time short way sooner than the roguelike mechanics did.

But even games that didn’t make me want to barf from just looking at them, never managed to hold my interest for too long regardless of what kind of game was wrapped around it. Games like FTL and Into the Breach are both critically acclaimed roguelikes that aren’t a side-scrolling platformers or top-down shooters, but even their unique gameplay mechanics weren’t enough to get me to actually play more than once or twice.

So what’s the deal here then? Plenty of games are repetitive and have you doing the same thing over and over, so what is it about roguelikes that stand apart? The honest answer is that I don’t really know. My theory is that when I have to do something repetitive in a linear game, it’s in service of moving forward. Sure that sequence sucked, but I’ll never have to do it again unless I feel like replaying the game at some point. But with roguelikes, that is the game. The lack of progression in roguelikes is probably what gets me the most. Sure you’ll unlock new weapons or powers or whatever, but it doesn’t change the fact that I still have to trudge through painfully familiar levels with the same enemies as I did before.

I’m sure there are plenty of people that would take umbrage with that previous paragraph, but roguelikes always felt like a slower burn to me when it comes to progressing. It reminds me a bit of those factory games, where you have make everything run as efficiently as possible. The fun there is in optimizing every piece of the assembly line so that you’re getting the most of out your time and production. Roguelikes have a similar thing where you’re making progress to help you better make progress next time. Maybe it’s experience doublers, or better weapons, higher HP, or level shortcuts, but it all feels like a lot of micromanaging, which is something I truly do not enjoy in video games.

Games like Hades, Risk of Rain 2 and Dead Cells, managed to make a compelling argument for why I should actually keep playing, both of which have to do with their excellent gameplay. But that only can keep me interested for so long before I feel the repetitive grind start to wear me down.

These gripes and issues are entirely on me though and I recognize that. It’s my impatience and unwillingness to learn and commit these patterns to memory that’s holding me back from actually engaging with this genre in a meaningful way. Roguelikes seem like a pretty long-term commitment that requires you to play them with some regularity, and that’s the complete opposite of what I’m looking for in a video game these days. Give me something shorter with well-defined and clear goals that I can blaze through in a few hours, not a new craft for me to master.

I know plenty of people who are head-over-heels for roguelikes, and in some cases have built a considerable following around streaming them, but I just cannot muster any modicum of enthusiasm for the genre. It sucks to have to basically shut myself off from an entire genre, but if the “best roguelike around” can’t change my opinion, then it’s time to cut my losses and walk away from the genre entirely. I hope that we get more great roguelike games for the people who can actually enjoy them, but at this point I need to stop trying and just save my money.

The Master of Disaster: Wanderlust – 21

I’ve often heard from other creative-minded folks that one of their biggest problems is actually following through on an idea or a concept. I know I’ve encountered that a whole lot on this very website what with all the “grand plans” that never come to fruition, but instead of examining every aspect of my life that’s been a letdown, I want to look at this problem through the lens of running campaigns in Dungeons & Dragons. I’m always thinking of the next grand adventure I can take my players on even if it’s at the expense of what we’re actively doing, and that’s not great.

At the moment, my group is one month into what’s looking to be a two month hiatus from our Eberron campaign that we’ve been playing for what feels like an eternity. At first I considered this to be a boon considering I had been feeling pretty worn out from the constant creative output needed to sustain our weekly play schedule. I thought that this time away would allow me to essentially get the creative juices flowing once more, which they did… just in a different way.

I had a lot of grand plans ranging from content to mechanics that for our Eberron campaign that for the most part were included. I wanted to make sure that the story wasn’t exclusively told by me, which ultimately led to player decisions (and consequences) being the catalyst for most of the storytelling. I managed this by making sure that character creation was a more in-depth process, where I’d learn not only about their characters, but the NPCs that are important to said characters. Having all this lore and backstory come from the players themselves allowed me to craft a story that’s uniquely tailored to them. Sure, Dungeon’s & Dragons is all about reactive storytelling, but that usually takes some time to really be a factor in any campaign. Ultimately what I’m trying to say is that most of what I prepared for took place before the campaign actually started, which led to me having players that were engaged with the world and its events from the jump.

But even though I’d prepped and planned and put all this time and effort into our campaign, over the weeks and months that we’ve been playing, I’ve started to see the pieces of the experience that aren’t coalescing as well I’d have liked it to. From the setting to the lore, I’m seeing all of these things that I could have improved upon if only I had known how they’d eventually turn out, or if I could have seen how much of a pain in the ass a particular plot point or magic item would have been. Sure I can consider this a learning experience whose lessons I can utilize in our next campaign, but instead of waiting for that transition to come naturally, all I can think about is what could be next instead of what I can do right now.

Whether it be a D&D module, some home brewed setting or even an entirely different game altogether, the waterfall of ideas just keeps flowing. I’ve had ideas for classic fantasy bullshit themed games, space themed games, alternate history, wild west, modern day and so on and so forth, all of which I daydream about way more than our current campaign.

Eberron: Rising from the Last War – Wizards of the Coast

I’d consider this to be a pattern of behavior, where I get really excited about a thing and throw myself headfirst into it, only to burn out on it before I can finish. The amount of maps, music, and artwork I’ve made and sourced for this specific campaign is kind of staggering when I try to take stock of it all. From tons and tons of adventures I can plug into the game, to NPCs who might never see the light of day, to entire game systems that will never be played, to just pure story and lore I’ve written that’s just never going to be utilized, I have a lot of things I could do with our campaign but just never seem to have the energy to follow through on.

But I recognized this as a problem a few weeks ago when I found myself prioritizing literally anything else above actually working on the campaign. But now we’re in the middle of a hiatus, and all I want to do is just play D&D again, something I won’t be able to do for another few weeks. In that time I’ve looked into plenty of settings, modules and games that we could utilize for whatever is next, but with so many options and the inability to meet with all of my players to consider them, all I can do right now is really just work on our current campaign.

But just because our current campaign is the only D&D thing I can confidently work on right now doesn’t mean that I haven’t regained some excitement for it. Being away from that world has given a lot of time to reflect on what I can do to revitalize the experience for myself. While I’ve generated some cool new ideas I’m excited to implement, I’ve also had time to reconsider parts of the campaign that I had planned. It feels weird to say that I’ve been cutting content from our adventure, but I think removing those things is going to help the adventure feel more cohesive and understandable. It also means I can focus on the ending of our story and how I’m possibly going to put a neat little bow on this whole experience.

The moral of this story is that you shouldn’t be afraid to take a break from any creative endeavor if you need it. I personally was feeling drained for so long, and just needed time away from the entire concept of rolling dice and adding numbers. Now I feel refreshed and energized, eagerly waiting for the next session to finally come along, but there’s still more waiting and planning to be done before that happens. I should also consider writing down some of these ideas and expanding upon them rather than just having a list with meandering phrases on them like “dragon(s?)” or “A mountain with legs.”

Blog: Storied Stories – 08/11/21

One of the things I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older is how it’s become harder and harder for me to dedicate the time and attention to story-focused games. There was a period of time throughout the last decade where you’d get games like The Walking Dead that told a great story, but didn’t really do anything interesting from a gameplay perspective. But despite not being anything special on the gameplay front, The Walking Dead‘s story and writing were so good that none of its shortcomings outweighed its strengths. I also don’t want to imply that it’s a one-or-the-other kind of situation where story-focused games can’t have good gameplay or vice versa, because there are plenty of games that have delivered on both elements. Regardless, I wanted to highlight some of my favorite story-focused games that I’ve played over the past few years that I think are well worth your time, if you, unlike myself, can actually dedicate time to these kinds of games anymore.


What Remains of Edith Finch tells the story of the Finch family through the exploration of their Seussian-styled home that housed several branches of the Finch family tree. It’s a story told through narration and playable vignettes that explain the mentality of various family members while adding to the grander mystery of the Finch family curse. Without going too deep into it, you are the last remaining Finch, and you’re going back home to understand the secrets of your fallen family members by exploring this comically constructed home that’s rife with secret passageways and impressive craftsmanship.

The game itself is only about 2 to 3 hours long, which is more than enough time for you to understand the wild set of circumstances that led the protagonist, Edith Finch, to explore and unpack her complicated family history. You’ll make your way into the rooms of these family members, and play through a vignette that has its own unique gameplay mechanics and/or art style, while hearing a cryptic story that feeds into the mystique of the Finch family curse. What I really enjoyed about What Remains of Edith Finch was not only how well the story was told, but how the gameplay segments never lingered too long or slowed down the pacing of the story itself. What Remains of Edith Finch is well worth your time and inevitable tears.


Firewatch is one of the few games on this list that I don’t know if I actually want to play again because of how emotionally taxing it actually was. You play as Henry, a man whose life has experienced some, let’s just say turbulence, that leads him to take a job as a fire lookout in the Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming. His only contact with other humans comes in the form of another fire lookout on the other end of his walkie-talkie, Delilah. Delilah and Henry will interact exclusively through these radios, which means you as the player have conversational choices to make in what you ask or divulge to Delilah as you traipse around the woods during your daily rounds.

The story of Firewatch is truly a triumph. The story of Henry, Delilah and their lives before meeting one another is engaging and impressive on its own, but then there are also some other mysteries about the Shoshone National Forest that you’ll uncover that are just as intriguing as anything else in the game. Also, as if if wasn’t preposterous enough for a game to tell several spectacular stories at once and do it well, Firewatch has the audacity to have an incredible art style too. Like, Firewatch in game looks incredible, but also the artwork for the game has been the background image on my computer for years now. Do yourselves a favor and get emotionally wrapped up in Firewatch.


Would you like to become emotionally attached to a bunch of geometric shapes while playing a fairly straightforward puzzle-platformer while a soothing British voice narrates the machinations of said shapes? Well my friend, I’ve got just the game for that oddly specific request and it’s called Thomas Was Alone. For real, this is a narrative puzzle-platformer where you inhabit various shapes that control differently in order to complete puzzles and move forward. For instance, you’ll need your rectangle buddy to make themselves into a bridge for the other shapes to traverse across. It’s nothing exceptional there, but it isn’t about the gameplay.

Thomas Was Alone is a game that will actually get you to have emotional connections with differently colored shapes. It’s absolutely wild to think that such a thing would even be possible, but it is and you can play it. While I don’t necessarily want to get too into the story, I can say that as the title would imply, the story is about these feelings of isolation and exclusion told through the lens of a small red square and their growing retinue of geometric buddies. Seriously, Thomas Was Alone is a great story layered upon a decent enough game that I think is well worth your time.


You’ve caught me. This entire list was just an excuse to talk about Night in the Woods once more. For those who don’t know my history with this game, I considered it my Game of the Year back in 2017 and still stand by that decision. But for those of you that don’t know, Night in the Woods is a story about expectations and reality, set to the backdrop of a dying Rust Belt town. Also everyone is an anthropomorphic animal, with you being a cat named Mae who hangs out with her friends who are a bear, a fox, and an alligator who smokes cigarettes.

There are a couple of competing plot threads that range from exceptional to okay, with the former being about Mae returning home from college to try and rekindle the life and lifestyle she left behind, and some vaguely paranormal stuff that involves a series of murders. One of the things I’ve come to recognize since first playing Night in the Woods however, is that my unbridled love for this game is directly linked to the fact that I was able to relate to so many of the characters in the game cause I’ve gone through and in some cases am still going through exactly what’s on screen. I truly cannot sing the praises of Night in the Woods enough, and you really should play it.

There are way more games that deserve to be talked about in this list, but I wanted to touch on some of my favorites without making this a full blown feature. Games like Celeste, Limbo, Spiritfairer, Papers, Please, A Short Hike and so many more deserve your attention, but I only have so much typing in me. Go play these games and get sad!

Blog: Whatcha Playing? – 08/04/21

This might come as a surprise to a lot of you, but I’ve actually been playing some video games lately that I’m pretty eager to talk about. I know it’s a novel concept that’s never been attempted before on this or any website, but I think I can land this metaphorical plane. Probably should avoid using plane metaphors considering a big plane-based video game did just release on consoles, and I did not play that because I value my hard drive space. Anyway, here are some of the games I’ve been tinkering around with this past week.

And if you’re interested in trying any of these games, all of them are available on Xbox Game Pass, which is how I gained access to them all. So that’s an option if you find yourself wanting to try any of the games on this list.


Omno isn’t a perfect game, but it is the exact kind of experience that I needed to refill the metaphorical “gaming tank”. Omno is a puzzle game where you play as this little person that’s making their way across a low-poly world, solving puzzles and riding big animals from level to level. You’ll need to complete a certain amount of puzzles in order to unlock the exit to the next level, but you can stick around and 100% each area if you’re so inclined. While all of the puzzles are fairly straightforward and share the same goal of, “make your way to, and collect this glowing orb,” there’s just enough variety to keep things from feeling stale. Additionally, you’ve got this magic staff that let’s you surf along the ground, float through the air, and more, that allow for the puzzles to be as varied as they are.

There’s a lot more to say about Omno, but as it stands, I had a very good time with it aside from some inconsistent control stuff that would show up whenever Omno wanted me to do something relatively quickly. Omno can get really frustrating when it asks you to operate within a time limit, because the controls aren’t as responsive as you’d like them to be. But aside from that, I really liked Omno and think it’s worth checking out if you’re looking for a chill way to kill 3 or 4 hours.


The Ascent seems really cool from the little bit of it that I’ve played of it thus far. It’s a cyberpunk-themed, twin-stick shooter with a ton of loot and RPG mechanics. It’s like if Diablo and HELLDIVERS decided to make a cyberpunk baby. The story seems like another one of those classic cyberpunk stories about a mega corporation that’s slowly bleeding its employees dry and perpetuating a world in which the only worth a person could have is intrinsically tied to their job status. You know, the kind of farfetched nonsense that could only exist in a video game…

I haven’t played enough of the game to really say anything more definitive about the experience, but it sure seems like something I’d like to play with my friends, which is allegedly a thing you should be able to do. However, the online (at the time of writing this) is hilariously broken. The Ascent is the kind of game I’ll probably only want to play with other people as opposed to solo, and you just can’t do that right now. From progression issues to straight up just not being able to start or connect to another players game, everything about the online experience of The Ascent is fucked. Still though, if they fix that, I could see me and my friends pouring hours into this game.


Last Stop is a narrative adventure game that’s set in present day London, telling three different stories that apparently all tie into each other. I’ve only played the first chapter of each of these stories, and so far they’ve each been fairly interesting. From infidelity to supernatural mystery, everything I’ve played of Last Stop has been pretty engaging and decently written. There isn’t much to the gameplay to at this point considering it’s basically following in the vein of something like The Walking Dead or Life is Strange, so expect a lot of conversation choices mixed with the occasional mini-game.

My only grievance thus far is just the lack of exploration or ambient storytelling. Usually in these types of games, you can snoop in notebooks or look at emails or something to get some vague backstory for characters, but there hasn’t really been much of any of that. As the name might imply, Last Stop feels pretty on rails in that regard, which isn’t a bad thing, I just wish I could be rewarded a bit for poking around the world. Maybe that stuff is in there later on, but from what I’ve seen there’s very little, if any at all. Regardless, I still intend on playing through it.


The original Lethal League is one of my favorite multiplayer games of all time. From its hyper-stylized presentation to the chaotic and frenetic action, that first game was truly a delight from top to bottom. Lethal League Blaze is the sequel that released back in 2018 and only recently got shoved into the vast Game Pass library. Lethal League Blaze is still a very good game just like its predecessor, but I don’t know that I can really spot many differences between the entries, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just a bit underwhelming.

For those who don’t know, Lethal League is the answer to the question, “what would it look like if Super Saiyans played racquetball?” Up to 4 players can jump in an arena where they’ll have to bat a ball around the screen, utilizing special abilities, power-ups and just their raw strength and timing to launch the ball at another players face over and over until they die. Words cannot accurately do justice to how crazy things can get in Lethal League, but I genuinely cannot recommend it enough to any group of friends.


I’ve loved Gang Beasts for years and was more than pleased when it finally made its way onto the Game Pass library. It meant that I could finally subject my friends to my very favorite physics-based fighting game, and hopefully get them to understand why I like it so much. Hurling punches, kicks and headbutts at each other while trying to chuck them off a roof or into an incinerator is just heaps of fun that can’t be matched by “traditional” fighting games. No, you can keep your dragon punches and spinning kicks, and I’ll be over here just trying to feed my good buddies to a kraken that somehow got put in an aquarium, or hurling them into the path of an oncoming train. That’s the kind of fun I’m looking for.

So that’s been my week in a nutshell. I honestly don’t think I would have tried this many games, let alone continue to play this many games had they not been on the Game Pass service. It’s really interesting to me that Game Pass has reignited this Blockbuster-like mentality, where I literally will just try anything that looks cool. I really don’t like sounding like I’m advertising this service, but I’ve really found tremendous value in it as an Xbox and PC owner. All that aside however, I’m glad that I’ve been able to find that “try more games” spark again, because it’s led to some really great experiences over the past week.

Blog: Under Achievement Hunter – 07/28/21

I have this Pavlovian response every time I unlock an achievement that triggers a bit of joy and validation whenever that pleasant little notification pops up. The numbers don’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things, but I sure do enjoy seeing my total score inflate with every game I play. But even that shot of dopamine that I get from these little micro-celebrations aren’t enough to make me fully engage with the idea of achievement hunting. No, for me it’s been a long career of just playing everything I could first, while paying attention to the achievement list second. It’s a scattershot approach that’s worked for me in the past, even if it’s been financially ruinous, but it’s an approach that’s unsustainable for me currently.

I bring all of this up because whenever I look at the achievement leaderboard on my Xbox, I can see that my approach was only successful because I had spent the past 15 or so years casually building my total up. In stark contrast to that approach is how this system was probably intended to be utilized, with people actively seeking out ways to unlock every achievement possible. I have some friends on my list that have fully unlocked everything in a large portion of the games they’ve played, whereas I basically just have the equivalent of souvenirs from every game I’ve ever played on a Microsoft console. The only reason why our totals are even close is because I’ve just played way more games than they have, otherwise their completion rates would blow mine out of the water.

It’s one of those things that make me wonder if I’m doing myself a disservice by not pushing through with games that I’m not 100% feeling. I fully endorse the idea that you shouldn’t waste your time with a game that isn’t grabbing you for the alleged promise of it “getting good” later on, but maybe there is some truth to that. My friends are out there putting hours and hours into games from all different genres, unlocking most of, if not all of the available achievements in each of them. It’s because of this that I’ve been able to actually step back and recognize that the way I’ve been playing games, especially after the brief stint I had doing YouTube stuff along with running this very site, just isn’t a great way to actually enjoy playing video games.

All of this is to say that achievements were a big part of recognizing that I was trying to live this untenable lifestyle that only the people who are paid to cover games can really afford to do. I look at my achievement list and just see hundreds of games I’ve wasted money on, with nothing to show for it, most of the time without even having any memory of ever playing them at all. Achievements aren’t anything special but I’d feel better about having actually unlocked a lot of them in prior games I’ve played, because that at least means I got some bang for my buck. As it stands now, it’s a graveyard for all of the money I once had.

Blog: Still Waters – 07/21/21

It used to be that the summertime was infamous for its lack of new game releases, but that’s no longer the case these days. Games are being made by all sorts of folks in all sorts of different circumstances, most of which are not beholden to the fiscal calendar that demands the biggest releases congregate at the end of a given year. It means that at any point during a year, your personal game of the year could blindside you and just release on Steam on a Wednesday. Well I’m here to tell you that I have not had that experience yet this year, and I’m bored out of my mind.

So far, 2021 hasn’t really dazzled me in terms of game releases. Actually, the whole year is questionable at best, but I won’t get into that. My point is that it’s been a really slow year for me when it comes to actually playing new games. I think I can count on one hand the amount of 2021 games I’ve really liked, let alone finished. Part of me worries that this is all just a sign that as we get older we’ll end up treating video games like albums, and only play the things we liked because nothing new resonates with us. That might just be me though.

My gaming habits are starting to feel more like a stringent diet these days, where I stick with what I know and occasionally have a cheat day with a new release or something. It hasn’t necessarily been a bad thing however, because I’m actually trying more games without having to shell out 60 to 70 dollars for it thanks to Game Pass. I just blasted through a cute, albeit unremarkable 3D platformer called New Super Lucky’s Tale, which is an updated and more accessible version of Super Lucky’s Tale, which was an Oculus Rift exclusive for a while. I didn’t know this game finally made it to consoles and was playable, but once I discovered that I basically spent 4 days just blazing through it. I hadn’t played a game that obsessively in quite some time, and who would have guessed that New Super Lucky’s Tale would be the game to do it.

Aside from that, I started a new Skyrim save with the intention of making myself an un-killable demigod who can leap from mountain top to mountain top in a single bound. I feel like I’ve done this exact thing before. But the reason I’ve dived back into the game is because not only is it on both PC and Xbox Game Pass and I can snag some sweet achievements for my time spent in this dreary world, but because it’s super fucking fun to kill a boss so good and so quickly that the game literally can’t progress any further. It’s been this wonderful experiment of “how quickly can I break Skyrim,” that’s quite frankly been one of the most fulfilling game experiences I’ve had this year. It turns out that you just kind of have to cough in the direction Skyrim for it to just implode in on itself. Really a bummer that the Game Pass version of Skyrim doesn’t have cloud saves though.

But yeah, at the risk of sounding like an ad for Game Pass, the last thing I will say about it is that it’s led to me spending a lot less on video games lately. It’s not like they’re out there grabbing the hottest new releases or anything, but they are regularly putting up either new and unknown indie games, or just these titles that I’ve been curious about for a while that I’d never actually pull the trigger on and buy. The service isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s one of those “untouchable” subscriptions that I will gladly continue paying for. Unlike Apple TV, who only remains because of how good Ted Lasso is and how badly I want to watch the second season.

Blog: The Quiet Year – 07/15/21

I’m not gonna name any names here, but someone may have forgotten what day it was and never scheduled a blog post to go up. Whoops. Regardless, I want to talk about a game that I got to play a couple of times over the past few days called The Quiet Year by Avery Alder. The Quiet Year is a cartography-focused, world building game for 2-4 players that heavily relies on improvisational skills and social contracts between friends that will inevitably be broken. It’s a ton of fun.

Without getting too deep into the mechanics, the long and short of The Quiet Year is that you and your buddies will draw cards from a deck that have prompts on them. Those prompts will ask you to change or expand the lore of the world in some way, and whether that change is borne out of triumph, failure, happiness or misery, the world you create is constantly evolving whether you like it or not. It’s this beautiful mixture of cooperation and chaos, asking you and your friends to represent a burgeoning community and its occupants for better or worse. Some people may value sustainable lifestyles while others might want militaristic might, but you need to speak for and represent all aspects of the community because you never know what’s going to be thrown at it. There’s a lot more to it than this paragraph can describe, so I recommend you look into it if anything I just said sounded interesting.

If none of that grabbed you, maybe a story about the game of The Quiet Year I’m playing will pique your interest.

It all starts on an island with a fresh water spring, a volcano and a forest. The small, then unnamed community of settlers had just escaped from some sort of devastating encounter in their previous home, and decided to set up shop here on this seemingly abandoned landmass. They soon discovered that this island was part of an archipelago, and another island that kind of looked like a big avocado was spotted to the southeast. That’s when the trouble began.

Artwork from The Quiet Year

While we don’t know what the lives of these people were like before they arrived here, they were awestruck by the sight of a massive idol that was built on the coast of what is now officially called Avocado Island. A jewel encrusted giant man made of wicker could be seen towering over everything and was surrounded by a few abandoned huts, leading some to ask “how did we only just see this?”

A profoundly upsetting amount of citizens on the island began to worship the wicker-man pretty much from the moment they laid eyes on it, which basically meant that everything the community did was in service of praising this unknown structure. Idolatry had gripped our little community so tightly and so quickly, that I instantly became painfully aware of how easy it could be to fall into a cult. A fascination with the wicker-man and their various gemstones led to a search for more gems that apparently granted people the ability to cast magic should they shake the stone strongly enough. This led to the development of a fleet of heavily armored ships that basically had big, enclosed slingshots on them that would shake fire spells in the direction of enemies.

I should mention that at this point we’d basically run out of reliable food sources, didn’t have anything more than tents for shelter, and only had a community of Vineyard Vines-wearing boat captains who looked down upon anyone who wasn’t them. A small, slightly deadly riot occurred which led to the eventual fleeing of these boat-bros, leaving only those who attacked them, the followers of the wicker-man, to themselves. Definitely a great situation that isn’t troubling in anyway whatsoever.

I swear this all makes sense

While everything was admittedly funny, our community was in shambles and spiraling out of control. Some people in the community were doing everything they could to push food production and shelter, but most of them were pretty hellbent on pleasing the wicker-man. Unfortunately for them an ill omen in the form of a storm came through and ravaged basically the wicker-man and nothing else, not even the small and seemingly abandoned huts that were constructed around it. What a weird thing to have happened.

In response to this, the community dedicated more time and effort to this damn wicker-man and his whole deal, going so far as to spy on the now returned and mysterious inhabitants of the huts around its demolished base. These people apparently knew of a legend that told of how to have the wicker-man reconstruct itself through the usage of more of these fucking gems. This led to even more time and more effort spent on learning about this thing that, while mysterious, literally isn’t helping the community in any real way aside from giving them a weird sense of faith.

The wildest part about this all is that we’re only halfway through the damn game. The Quiet Year, as its name implies, covers a community throughout the course of a year but can be cut short if the wrong card is drawn in the winter. Once that card is drawn the game ends. What I’m saying is that all of this wild-ass shit only happened during the spring and summertime months. As the seasons pass, the card prompts will get nastier and nastier, so the shit we’ve cobbled together here are representative of the “easier” months of play.

One last thing that’s worth mentioning about our game in particular is that like most folks, we aren’t artists. So our first and main island may have looked more like a butt than anyone initially intended, but boy-howdy did we run with it. Towards the end of our first session we finally landed on a name for our island. We called it Dolius. Apparently dolius is the Latin word for butt, so there’s that. It was a fairly nuanced name for our ass-island, but rest assured that a more silly name was given to the volcano. That volcano was called Posterior Peak and we once threw an old man into it, not just because he was a shithead, but because that’s what the wicker-man would’ve wanted.

Blog: Double Dashed – 07/07/21

I’ve often heard it said that everyone has a favorite Mario Kart game and it’s directly associated with whichever one was released when you were a kid. It’s rarely a conversation about if someone likes Mario Kart, but rather which one they like the most. So maybe it comes across as some sort of weird sacrilegious thing when I posit that I don’t think I like Mario Kart as a concept, especially after having played a particularly beloved entry in the series for a few hours. Let me explain.

The other day my partner and I were looking for something to play together. “We could play my Game Cube,” they offered, to which I begrudgingly agreed to. I’ve never been particularly fond of the Game Cube as a platform. My core issues with the console boil down to what I believe to be a pretty terrible controller along with a pretty miserable Mario game in Super Mario Sunshine, both of which zapped my enthusiasm for the little purple game-box. I get that people have very strong feelings about the Game Cube, but it never resonated with me.

After showing me their defunct Animal Crossing town that was filled with weeds and surprisingly mean villagers, I was treated to an extended session of playing Mario Kart Double Dash, one of the most beloved entries in the franchise. While that entry is fine in the broader context of Mario Kart as a series, it became pretty apparent to both of us after a while of playing that I wasn’t enjoying myself. Some races I’d do well in and even squeak out a win, while most other races were resounding losses that were shameful displays at best. Regardless of the outcome of a particular race however, I was not enjoying myself.

There’s a weird through line I’ve noticed in the Mario Kart games I’ve played, which is that they all seem to relish in screwing you over much like another extremely popular Mario game. That’s when I had the realization that Mario Kart does everything I hate about Mario Party, just in a much faster way. I don’t have any statistical evidence to support this nor did I dive into the code of either franchise to support these claims so consider what I say to be purely conjecture, but the two series really seem to have a weird fascination with pouring on the bullshit whenever you think you’re doing well. Sure you need ways for the folks in last place to stand a chance in either game, so you might throw them an item or something that can help change the tide, but in both series there really doesn’t seem to be any incentive to do well right out of the gate. That is unless you enjoy being the target of every pixel of bullshit that your opponents can and will ever launch.

Video Credit: HowBoutGaming on YouTube

Every race in which I got out to an early lead ended with me in last place, whereas every race in which I started off poorly ended with me in the top 3 or 4. You could chalk that up to nothing but pure coincidence, but after a two to three hour session of playing, it started to feel less random and more spiteful. Mario Kart Double Dash had this nasty habit of fucking you so hard in such a short period of time, over and over. You don’t just get hit by a blue shell, no, you get hit by the blue shell, then a red one, then some super move, then you’re nudged off the course, all while in sight of the finish line. That’s where the whole Mario Kart experience just broke down for me, because it would happen with such alarming regularity that I’d go from first place to last within mere inches of the finish line. You can call it bad luck, but I call it bullshit.

Eventually we stopped playing because my partner was concerned with my attitude after I slammed the controller into the ground (it’s fine). I’ve come a long way since my high school days of getting so angry at video games that I’d throw something, but something about Mario Kart just manages to bring out the worst in me. Rubber-banding in games is always a tricky thing to nail, and when it’s done well it can lead to some really exciting and competitive moments in games. I just feel like both Mario Kart and Mario Party aren’t great at implementing these on-the-fly balances, which leads to a lot of frustration on my part cause I feel like I have no control over the outcome of the game anymore. But at least Mario Party has the courtesy to look you in the eye while it’s fucking you over, unlike Mario Kart who only wants to do it as quickly and spitefully as possible.