A lot of things changed for my father when I was born. He gave up smoking, took up a job he’d work at for the entirety of my life, becoming third in command at the place over time, and he also discovered this little thing called Dungeons and Dragons.

I do not know if I ever saw a single time where my father passed dice in a hobby shop and didn’t buy a set.

It feels incredibly weird to say that. For as long as I can remember, Dad had cases of dice and stacks of sourcebooks, folios full of character sheets, and a near-endless supply of miniatures he would painstakingly prime, paint, and polish for every Friday’s gaming session. There are two memories which are some of the earliest in my life, one relating to each parent, and I think both define them in my head to this day. With my father, it was him starting up Eye of the Beholder III in our den, and an early encounter was frustrating him. I watched him apply all his buffs and walk into battle repeatedly, only to have the party fall to two beholders and their anti-magic rays (which in turn left everyone pretty vulnerable to “I look at you and you become dust” stares). I wanted to help, so I just suggested he try casting something different in the fight.

“Why not Dispel Magic? If it can’t cast anything on you, this should be easy, right?”

This story is one of the only ways I know that Dad didn’t play D&D before I was born, because he probably would have realized how insane what I just said was. Instead, he nodded, applied all of his buffs, walked through the door, cast the spell, and IMMEDIATELY began swearing up a storm as all of his protections vanished in a single mouse click. It was not the only time a young me would inspire this reaction1, but it was definitely the original, because I didn’t hang around quite so close to watch for a bit after that.

I grew up my father’s son, but of his two children, I was not the favorite. That’s not a bad thing by any means – I was my mother’s child, and my sister was Dad’s. At this point, I don’t think any one of us would deny it’s how it broke down, and it’s not like I was neglected for it. But the one thing I went way more in on than her, and one of our tightest bonds for years, was my sister never dove hard into tabletop or CRPGs like Dad and I did2. We both kept going through the 90s into the lean times for the genre, but whereas I branched out into more titles, Dad stuck with the genre, began picking up CD megapacks of the older titles he missed, and over time, would replay the ones he loved most. Somewhere in here, he learned of the furthest he’d go from the party-based style: my father bought a copy of Diablo.

This was the first time I began to realize part of why he stuck to turn-based games for the most part: by the end of Diablo, Dad had to have me by his side watching the hotkeys to feed him potions and keep him going. He didn’t have the dexterity to manage a mouse, his skill keys, AND tap the right key in the heat of boss battles. Strangely, this didn’t scare him off the genre! It’s only because he kept trying to play these (but a. never online, and b. never another Diablo game) that I learned about this weird little German title called Sacred, and later, I ran all over town trying to find him a copy of the sequel which had a rocky US launch. Getting the expansion for this game was what finally convinced him to make a Steam account, and ever since, it became THE most played title he ever got into on the platform until this past year3.

My father’s taste in games: incredibly specific

The surprising thing is, despite all of this, he never finished Sacred 2. I actually don’t know what the last game he fully beat, start to finish, was. Everything in the above screenshot I’m damn sure he didn’t polish off, and maybe one game further down the list was it, Legend of Grimrock. 1. He never went on to the sequel because by that point, he was getting to the point where the sidestep-and-swipe-shuffle of those real-time dungeon crawlers was too much for him. I highly suspect due to this he never beat it, just because of how brutally tight that last boss “puzzle” could be. But he never complained! He just decided that he’d grind a little more and still have fun with the action titles he played. My father put 500+ hours into Kingdoms of Amalur just because he figured out “Oh, I can just forge and potion myself to invincibility” on his own and it meant if he got stuck, he’d just do that for a bit, then run off to some new corner of the world and make a fiefdom, and… To my father, RPGs didn’t seem to need endings, they were just worlds he was passing through. Nowhere was this clearer in the 20+ year D&D campaign he played in as I grew up.

Dad’s GM was an ex-submarine tech, and apparently, how he spent his time at sea was just taking notes. Designing worlds. Statting critters. I was a teenager the last time I attended one of them, and by that point, the man had a literal wall of banker’s boxes full of binders and notes and paperwork. It wasn’t focused on being a perfect, clockwork world – I remember Dad joking all the time about “oh yeah, you can tell someone enjoyed Jurassic Park, we’ve been running into a lot of giant lizards lately” or some other new focus that became fodder for the campaign for a few sessions. But it was a world, and whatever his players wanted to do in it, he’d let them. It had one of the more creative rules I ever saw, probably because it lasted so long: if a character reached level 104, they became an NPC. They would be a potent NPC, and probably someone that the party or successive adventurers might look to for aid or a story arc, but you were too potent to just be wandering into dungeons at that point. You were the head of a druid circle, or a local lord, or the head of a merchant empire. And all of these happened! I remember my father spending an entire week between games once statting out all of his wagons and who carried what where, calling the GM to roll up if anyone made it, were there brigands, did I hire enough guards – All of this BETWEEN GAMES just to make sure that he wouldn’t slow everyone else down handling it at the one tabletop session of the week.

I ran some tabletop games for years. I started in high school, and it definitely reflected my younger, self-destructive self. There was the time we all drove out towards a California wildfire to meet up and play when our school was canceled, but the house where all of our stuff was was in the path, just ten minutes out instead of five. We legit kept two trucks ready for all of us to hop into in case the winds changed, but had we been unlucky: that definitely would have killed the 6 of us. This campaign ended with one player pulling a shotgun on another, and while it wasn’t fired, this was definitely enough that it kept a bunch of nerdy teens from resuming the next week.

But we all still hung out on campus, of course, because we weren’t going to get weird about it.

I’m sure some people reading this remember that I ran another campaign for a while after that, a podcast series that went on for a few years. I’m not the fondest of it. The whole thing came about during the lowest point of my life, where I was drinking, surly, abusive, and really just an outright terrible person to be around. Barely any of those players speak to me anymore, and I don’t blame them, even though I think the majority of them still regularly play and record other stuff as a continuation of the show without me. I don’t know if anything else in my life was as much of a wedge between Dad and I. He continued playing tabletop games until he died, still getting the same enjoyment when their GM split, and they found new players, and new people. We would legitimately be running around town when I went home and I’d just get introduced to “oh, hey, this is so-and-so, she’s younger than you and she just joined our D&D group. You’ve always got a place at the table if you want it, son!”. This happened repeatedly! For him, it was never a chore, it was the peak of his week no matter what, and I envy him that. To this day, I still have possibly-PTSD over tabletop stuff, just thinking of all the horrendous things I did and how incredibly low I was with alcohol. I do not know if this one was ever public, but according to multiple of the players, there was a side session we ran one week where I was apparently so plastered that they thought I had killed myself, or at least wounded myself quite a bit, and I was giggling on the floor. I confess I don’t know about this one because I woke up on the floor or in some shitty position more than once after those games.

Can you guess my father’s taste in music?

I guess I let it slip in the last paragraph: my father is dead. Freshly so, it was this week. I’m writing this on what was his D&D night, and I’m afraid to call and ask whether they’re taking the night off just this once, or if the game goes on without him. This whole thing comes down to one last request: we knew he was going for a while, but before he did, he made quite sure that we all knew I got his dice. And so, on the day he passed, I went home to my parents’ place after work, and I helped with some of the cleanup until the hospice nurse arrived and loaded him into a van under a sheet. When I left, I did so with sacks and containers of dice, an impressive number given that sometime in the 2000s, someone broke into his van and stole all of his D&D books and bags, and this was everything he had recollected just since then.

He never played a tabletop RPG post-D&D 2e. I think they dabbled in Pathfinder a little, but his new GM and the remnants of that old group returned to their custom system, filing a few edges off for playability. That was something we had friction over at times – I was never content to just play a game. I was analyzing it, I’d find flaws, I’d nitpick. He threw himself into it and just had fun. We argued about design and whether a game was fun or not, but to my father, games were just to be played, the system didn’t matter. Every game had rules and sometimes you could do better, but nothing would ever leave his mouth in the middle of play: the rules had been set and he was going to play by them. One of the only people who ever got kicked out of that group was someone who just kept pushing those boundaries and finally everyone had enough, and while Dad kept up with him for years (I ran into him the other day, at Dad’s bedside, the day he slipped into a coma he never woke from), they all agreed: Mark was a real shitty player.

Ernie Arnett never knew me as Sibyl. His health had been failing for years, last year he received a stage 4 cancer diagnosis, and early in 2021 he caught Covid-19 and somehow survived for another six months5. I don’t doubt he would have been fine with this part of my identity, there was nothing else I ever came to him with that he didn’t accept, from my sexuality to any of my relationships to just “I don’t think I want to work at the same company as you, Dad”. But I didn’t tell him because I think on some level, he wanted A Son to continue his legacy, and I was willing to keep that fiction alive for him with the clock ticking. His father had died at 65, and his father’s father the same. That Dad made it past that milestone, even briefly, made him incredibly proud, and I told him at the time I intended to top whatever record he set. I still plan to, even if in his absence, I’m gonna fudge some of those details. My father bailed me out of so many jams and still I’ll remember one of the final things he said to me was that he wished he had done “more for his kids”. The man who raised three of us, one who wasn’t even his by birth, and still he thought he had let us down on some level.

This is where I broke down crying and stopped, weeks back. I keep returning to this post in fits and starts. I’ve helped pick up around my parents’ house, cleaning up the master bedroom that became a remote hospital bed for months. The strangest things set me off throughout this. The realization that I will constantly just see my father “online” for a while to come as my brother in law laid claim to his PC/Steam account, an account whose only friend was me, so I could gift him titles, is a weird sensation that trips me out every time6. I’ve got a big pile of Dad’s dice and a lot of his media that ended up in my care for sorting, there’s some real weird landmines in those bags. When that Wheel of Time show comes out this fall, that’ll probably be a fresh gut-punch, we both read those together every time a new one dropped. On and on, and still, despite it… this is probably for the best. I don’t want to forget my father, he was a wonderful man, even if his declining years were not amazing on a few levels. He just faded out, far from the worst way cancer could end.

As I post this, I can still see “Dad” online and playing the last thing I ever gave him. It’s bittersweet in a few ways.

I keep putting off finishing and posting this. I find myself thinking of other stories to add7, or more ways to try and extend the metaphor… it’s like if I finish this, if I admit it’s over and release it, then I’m burying my father myself. Now that I’m sitting here staring at the terminal, though, I know it would just be cruft. I’d edit half of it out and start over, or keep trying to reframe this whole thing so it “flows better”. It’s not going to flow better. It’s me processing grief on a page. I’ll have to do it again later, I know that much. We can’t really hold a service or see any other relatives in the middle of a pandemic kicking back into high gear, with family all around the country and the travel being risky as hell. So someday I’ll revisit my father’s grave, and maybe I’ll break a sober streak and down some liquor with aunts and uncles, and see which of us yells at the other first, especially because I’m sure it’ll be the first time a few of them find out “Ah, you’ve got tits now, and not like your father did”. But I set myself a timer on this, and I’m almost done with the last song on the playlist, Tom’s Diner. It was just the right bit of melancholy to round this out, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to have some Sarah McLachlan stuck in my head for a week after this.

He was the man who helped make me who I am, and I intend to be surpass him, same as he aimed to with his father.


I’ve never been the most emotional individual. Sure, I’ll tear up at the occasional piece of media, but in general, the term most people would probably use for me is “stoic”, or, if I’m unlucky, “an asshole”. I’ve had rage issues! And the more I think back on it, pretty much any emotions I can recall or associate with myself are just self-loathing and a lot of frustration or yelling.

At no point did I really work on self-reflection. Not until the lockdown hit, and, one infection and three quarantines in a box later, I had a lot of time to think about… well, me. Because after a certain point, you run out of books and you’re sick of the same songs and what else is there to do between all the walls? You’re the only thing moving to catch your own attention unless you want to go full opiate-of-the-masses and just fill yourself with any endless font of garbage. I know I have a reputation as “the guy who likes all the terrible things”, but even I’ve got limits.

And also I did that. I literally spent one of those quarantines just hurting myself over and over with a 95% complete1 binge through Tokyo Xanadu ex+. It was not worth it, and I knew I didn’t enjoy the game pretty early on, but it was installed, it was incredibly casual, and I didn’t need to think about it or really engage with anything save “walk to point, hit X a bunch, oops I’m in a shadow cathedral now, okay now we all get coffee”.

Anyways, the majority of 2020 and onwards, I just kept getting locked up for a while and I had to consider who I was, and what was happening. I’ve been trying to balance all of my side-projects with being in a relationship in a way that I don’t just go full-workaholic and the scale flips end over end. (It’s not entirely successful.) There’s been a goal of getting myself back into shape after spending three years at a desk job without a lot of excuses to exercise. I went vegetarian, started balancing my budget, designed little goals to work up to and complete regularly…

And I’m transgender.

Lemme back up a sec. For ~20 years now this was a thing that kept coming up, over and over, and 2+2+2+2+2+2+2 just never added up to the requisite amount for me in all this time. You’d better believe that after admitting it to myself I have a literal list of “how the fuck did I miss this” spanning that whole period.2 A lot of very specific conversations and incredibly stupid deflections from ever-more-blunt “Okay so you’re sure that…” friends, cis, trans, and otherwise.

But yeah. Months later after a lot of planning, and preparation, and paperwork, and voice practice which is still fucking with me… I feel good. I feel happy in a way I haven’t before. I knew I had some form of depression from my 20s, when I spent a lot of time unemployed or worse, and there were days I just slept away and didn’t care. But in hindsight, there’s a definite feeling I might have just been dissociating a lot of the time, and it’s why I never felt anything but numb. I haven’t had that lately. It’s new! It’s fresh and it feels GOOD and a lot of things click now.

Hi there. My name is Sibyl, and I feel more alive than I have in decades. Now I’m gonna do something with that life.

Also since I never mentioned it on this site: I am doing so many new podcasts. Please do check out the other media page and look into any that intrigue you!


I’ll follow up this weekend with the more personal post and info on upcoming projects, but in the meantime, since I’m not going to do longer pieces on these cleared games, let’s just sum up what y’all missed in the world of knocking down the backlog. Hint: not a lot of it is interesting.

Dark Souls 3

You can tell just how seriously I took this game by the name of my character.

Continue reading “Catch-up”

On Rules

I’ve been grappling for a bit now with how I wanted to handle DLC as regarded the “no buying games until games*2 completed” rule, and tonight I’m very glad Taito helped make the decision for me, because fuck you if you didn’t think I was gonna buy Invader GIRL! the instant it became available in Groove Coaster PC.

Also I guess this opens the floodgates to let me pick up the QUBE 2 DLC puzzles, which I’ve been interested in since I beat the game.

Endless Hellscape/License Hell: Ice Cream Surfer

I did not mean for every License Hell column to be on a webcomic turned video game, but somehow I keep falling ass backwards into them.

You may notice the screenshots changing resolution as this article goes on. I’ll get to that.

Playing around with the “random” button on Steam with a pal one night led to both of us discovering that a) this game existed and b) I owned it. In need of a quick mark in the win column, I figured a cute-em-up would be the ego boost I was after. Buuuuuuut there were two problems with that.

This game suffers from a lot of what I might call “fundamental design problems”. Can you figure out what my shot pattern is based on this screenshot? Hint: it’s not entirely consistent, which makes aiming monstrous. And this is POWERED UP.

The first is that this game controls impossibly poorly. There was a single patch note for the game on Steam which simply read “Error control solved – 3/8/2016. This new release solve the problem with the pad control.” This was a lie – no matter how I bound the controls (and this is an early Unity title, so there were control options in and out of game!), I could never get them to stop feeling floaty and stuttery. Seriously, it’s really hard to explain, because the framerate is pretty consistent, but you just don’t stop moving a lot of the time. Given that character hitboxes are also questionable, this leads to a lot of deaths.

I tend to agree with the opinion that in the shoot-em-up1 genre, you haven’t beaten most until you can one-credit clear a title, especially a lot of modern titles where this is the only way to unlock the “true” final boss. Just spamming “continue?” or pumping credits isn’t really a clear… buuuuuuut I absolutely did that on this game and I’m still going to count it because of the other reason.

See all those flames? They appear with no signaling whatsoever, and they are invincible.

The final two stages of this game are utterly hateful. The fifth of six introduces a lot of invincible enemies and culminates in a boss who is pure RNG, the is-that-a-sun you see in the above screenshot. All you must do to defeat him is simple on paper: he has 4 throbbing… somethings… appear on his face, you shoot them before time runs out, and he opens his mouth, a weak point you can shoot to lower his health bar at the bottom of the screen. (Which has 3 bars, I’ll point out.)

Did you fail to shoot the throbbers in time? Every one of them has now burst with no cue whatsoever, killing you if you’re still in front of it. Also, please notice that now that he’s down a few lifebars, he has a flame not-quite-a-shield around him. Aura? As far as I can tell it does nothing.

The problem with this is that if you die, you go back to a level 1 character, and this means that depending on your character2, you’re VERY CLOSE TO UNABLE to kill his throbbers before they explode. If he spread them out too far, I just killed one and got out of the way, because between movement and the fact that I had to be on top of them to fire fast enough, it was too risky. I would also like to mention at this point there is no autofire whatsoever in Ice Cream Surfer, so by stage 5 my thumb was real tender from mashing for every single shot in the game.

You can’t even credit-feed him to death because if you game over, this game is checkpoint based. Your three lives are your only three hits to take out this boss, and if you lose them, have fun restarting the entire thing from his lifebar at full.

Remember how I mentioned your hitbox is questionable? Do take a guess how I was supposed to navigate through attacks like THIS.
These teleporting pricks can and will appear right under you and cause a death you can’t react to.

And then there was the final stage, where credit feeding became even less workable because it had no checkpoints whatsoever and was a gauntlet of bad design. A recurring boss who has attack patterns these controls/characters were not designed for, teleporting enemies who can just gank you if they choose to spawn inside you, and it’s the longest one in the entire game, all to be done on three lives. I will be entirely honest and admit that because of this, I cracked open Cheat Engine and locked myself to a permanent 1 life for the rest of the game just to get this over with. Were it not for that I probably wouldn’t have any screenshots – it became incredibly challenging to hit the key and not die, and only with the ability to die at will did I not care anymore and F12ed away.

And then I cleared the game and got to see something that led me down a weird, weird rabbit hole.

I actually expected this domain to be dead, but I did look. And… it was a cute but aborted webcomic. But from there, I discovered the artist’s social media, and that this game was not a one-off vanity project by the creators. In fact, it was the first game from a still-present company staffed by two gentlemen from Spain, one of whom was the comic’s author, the other being the coder.

A company that is apparently putting out physical versions of Ice Cream Surfer on PS4 and Vita this Christmas. Seeing that this game got ported made me real curious if the Steam version was just abandoned and it had been improved for consoles, and… uh… It looks like it controls just as bad, at least. The UI has a slight improvement but otherwise, this is the exact same game I went through in an evening, with the same much too loud volume that can’t be tweaked in-game, and spritework that looks about the same as it does on my PC at higher resolutions if I don’t turn the game to “Fastest” out of spite.

Although I have to give the PS4 version this: the video there doesn’t constantly shift resolutions. Every time the game loaded a new scene it’d go to fullscreen in a hitchy fashion, and I’d have to alt-enter it back to windowed. It’s really hard to express in words how poorly coded the game is – every time you close it, it unlocks 30/31 achievements for you on Steam, all of which have no icons or descriptions. I’ve mentioned the control problems. Volume seems to be maxed on every possible sound that comes out of it – I turned the game down to 1% on Windows’ own mixer and it was still way too much for me to listen to after a few stages.

Since I mentioned the other characters, do take a look at ’em. You may also notice the character select icon is not in any way centered on these characters.

If anything, I’m most curious about what in the absolute hell deals Dolores Entertainment has made to become the publisher for the titles they have. Somehow this is the team who ported indie darling Nihilumbra to Switch and they’ve worked with a few others in the same role across a variety of platforms now. Reading reviews tells me that not everything is as questionable as this game, so now I’m only left wondering what in the hell happened here?

Or I would be if I wasn’t going to absolutely scorch all traces of this game from my hard drive and open tabs when this post goes up, because pee-yew.

  • Remaining clears before hiatus ends: 25/36
  • Remaining titles to be written about: 4

Endless Hellscape: Failed Attempts

I set myself some pretty lenient rules with the backlog clearing: 6 hours or “the ending” knocks it off the list as a victory. Here is some of the stuff that I could not even muster up that meager amount for so far. Keep in mind that for all my bitching, I cleared Sacred 3 and, this one’s gonna get its own post in a couple of days, Resident Evil 6, so it’s not like my bar is amazingly high on this project… and yet these didn’t even manage to make it.


The entire game, more or less.

Matris feels like an early access puzzle game. There’s a concept here, but practically nothing to do. The four modes are “Puzzle”, where you try to cover the entire board (with medals at 90, 95, and 100%), “Combo” (score attack), “Time Attack” (take a guess), and “Free Play”, which is basically a modified Combo with occasional special spaces. In non-Puzzle modes, you’re forced to make every successive piece start within one square of the last one you placed, which is how you end combos when you run out of moves and it clears your mass for bonuses.

And that’s it. There’s nothing competitive, different boards don’t do anything to shake it up aside from making you work carefully on a few spots, and high scoring in Free Play is entirely RNG based since the special spaces go between positive and negative and hitting one can either propel you to victory or fuck you.

And you’ve now seen the entire game.

There are leaderboards for Free Play/Time Attack, but very few people seem to give a damn on them: flailing through Free Play for about five minutes earned me #38 worldwide out of a total of 115 players (and you can’t view the leaderboards in the game at all – only via Steam’s game page). I can’t blame them, this isn’t a title I’m going to revisit.

Tapped out at: 4.4 hours/6 hours

Lines X

It should be very clear I love me some casual games. After work/before bed, I tend to do a little bit of wind-down with some puzzle title or a quick run of something low-impact. I’ve even been known to engage in those “hidden object” games here and there. In theory, this should mean Lines X would be another title like Sudoku Universe where I’m gonna mark it done after 6 hours and continue playing it here and there for this very reason.

After all, this is THE ENTIRE GAME.

See those colored dots above? Your goal is to connect all same-colored dots in such a way the entire board is covered when all have been paired off. How do you fuck this up?

This is how.

For some fucking reason, this game blasts you with sets of achievements after every puzzle. At first they were just letters of various alphabets and I thought “oh, that’s cute, I can spell some stuff out on my Steam profile with this now”.

And then came the words. Like the above. I probably would have considered this an unfortunate use of a dictionary, but then I decided I was going to try and clear one more puzzle so that when I woke up, “Most Recent: Rape” wasn’t staring me in the face.

When a puzzle game goes out of its way to insult me, I am entirely okay just binning the bastard.

Tapped out at: 14 minutes/6 hours and 120/590 achievements, at least ten of which were just an algorithm giving me the middle finger

Rapture Rejects

This one is pretty easy, it’s a story in two parts:

So yeah, that’s not happening for reasons of impossibility.

Tapped out at: minute wait time/6 hours

Endless Hellscape: Sequels and Shorts

I was laid up a little last week with a sinus infection, so it gave me the time to blow through a few titles before going back to work. Unfortunately, this one isn’t the most praiseworthy crop…

Sacred 3

Y’all, I absolutely loved Sacred 21. It was an action-RPG that didn’t go for balance or sanity or anything but being a kitchen sink entry into the genre.

The Linux-powered Anubis-styled Megaman was a real character class.

Every class had their own special equipment slots, the game threw gear and skills at you aplenty, and there were systems in place to convert other people’s loot into something you could use if you didn’t want to save it for alts or trade with other players. Quests could be as straight-faced as “battle your way free in the arena” or as insane as “Please rescue the members of Blind Guardian so they can play a concert for you”. That’s really a thing that happens. Above all, though, the game never really slowed down or forced any of this on you – if you wanted to just do the main story, it was straight-faced, and there was a mass of extra toys lying around a massive world to play with.

Once upon a time, I and a woman who was not yet my wife got an invite to a party taking place in town during San Diego Comic-Con. If you’re unfamiliar with SDCC, it’s where downtown SD turns into Hollywood South for a week, and sometimes anime, comic, and games companies show up to fill some of the extra space on the show floor. Nearby hotels become showrooms for one company or another if you’ve got the press pass, the cash, or know a guy who can get you in to see things. Because she shared a clan with one of the employees, she got an invite and a plus-one to see a joint party Square-Enix and Deep Silver were putting on in the summer of 2014 at a local bar.

There is no sense of design whatsoever in this game. Half the characters dress like a Champions Online reject next to steampunk dwarves or kung-fu monks or Conan the Barbarian ripoffs…

There were good games on display (I actually still have a t-shirt won for getting one of the highest scores in Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris), and there was some real trash. One thing I recall catching my eye was that above one station were simply the words “Sacred 3”. It actually took half the night to get to mess with it – unlike more than a few of the stations, this wasn’t running code on a console, and was a developer build that they had to download from Steam on a very, very poor connection. But eventually, the two of us took a crack at this game, and immediately I bristled when the station only had two controllers. Sacred 2 hadn’t been a game I’d want to play on a 360 controller.

Sacred 3 was actually really bad. The first stage was overlong and the two of us together (slightly drunk, to be fair) didn’t get to the end of it before the endless parade of low hanging fantasy jokes, sloppy gameplay, and just boring pacing had us walk off to try, and this is true, Hitman Sniper Challenge, a game we both had much more fun with on an iPad in a corner.

And when I talk trash about the writing and the humor, I want you to know that within every three lines, you’re going to hear something on this level. Or worse.

I do not know how I got my copy of Sacred 3. I’m going to guess a spite-gift from one of my friends2 or a bundle of some sort. It came with all of the DLC, and so when I began to play it this time around, I learned two things really quickly:
1. the DLC actively makes the game worse
2. the finished version was in no way better than the development build we tried at a bar, except now I was sober and I didn’t have anyone to riff off of

The DLC did this to me and if I had to experience this moment, you do too.

Here’s the thing I haven’t quite made clear yet – this is not a Diablo clone like the prior games in the series, with equipment, loot drops, a big open world to dick around in, etc. This is a game whose biggest competition was the Gauntlet reboot that showed up the same year, a co-op focused level-based action title with powerups, characters who only had a few skills and minor gear based ‘builds’, and, in Sacred’s case, a shitload of padding. I played legitimately for the first 33 stages and then just set my XP to maximum because a) gear was a negligible part of this game and b) I wanted it to end faster. Sure enough, just pumping my Seraphim’s numbers took the main stages from 30-40 minutes down to around 10 on average. Some were a little longer, but it’s because they had a particularly gimmicky boss, or relied on a lot of enemy arenas.

The game seriously is one of the most formulaic things I’ve played in recent memory, by the by. Every major stage (and if some of you keep wondering why I’m distinguishing main/major stages: there are 2-3 little 5-10 minute jaunts for every plot level, I don’t know if they’re optional or not) will do all but one of the following in some order:

  • A sequence where you must do a thing 6 times in a row, with the thing involving a cooldown timer, as waves of enemies swarm your position. This can be as simple as “turn a crank repeatedly and each time, it has an animation before you can do it again”, or, my least favorite variant by a mile, “destroy 6 X”. These things will be spread around a much too large area, and this game has no minimap or camera control, so you’ll be wandering looking for your targets in graveyards full of entire cities, or my personal nadir of the game, “destroy 6 catapults on a full size battlefield”. The place was huge, nothing pointed at your targets, and finding the final one when I missed a shot on it earlier was hell to make my way back to.
  • The segment where Shit Falls On You From Above With Telegraphed Explosion Markers. It can be boulders. It can be catapult fire. It can be an erupting volcano. Maybe it’s cannonballs. Whatever the excuse, it’ll be you running through an area with probably-zero enemies dodging this stage’s glowing circle parade.
  • Find 1-4 keys. Much like the destroy 6 X, these are spread over huge areas with no signposting, so wander around slaying everything until the correct 4 men have died. Usually these are the largest 4 men, but this is not a guarantee!
  • Charge The Portal. An endless procession of enemies swarms you as you hold a button to fill up the same gate that appears in every one of these. The killer? You’re not just standing in place screaming and powering it up with your aura, you’re actually consuming your special attack meters. And a single player at full special will only fill the thing about 66%, so get ready to smack down the idiot parade for a while to fill back up to finish the job if you play solo. (You’re playing solo. Nobody is still in this game.)
  • A boss. Most of these are just a big dude, but some of them are irritating puzzle bosses, where you have to do things like angle a specific enemy to damage the boss, or lure it into a room hazard, or crap like that. Those are the worst in the game because suddenly you’ve got to use one of the lesser-developed mechanics to make it work, usually the “pick up a fodder enemy and throw them” one with exploding idiots who can’t be aimed well. The thing that broke me of playing this game legitimately and sent me to ratchet my XP to max was a pirate ship boss who could only be damaged by basically bowling enemies carrying explosives towards the ship that would dodge and occasionally turn invincible to send enemy generators at you. The boss fight alone on that already over-long stage took me another 10 minutes.
Fuck this wheel. Fuck this wheel straight in its disappearing spokes.

There is so much more bullshit to this game4 but I’ve already made my point. To add insult to injury, the original developers of Sacred 1/2, Ascaron, had folded as a company between 2/3, and some of them tried reforming to create a spiritual successor. Playing this game made me look up what happened to them, and I got to learn that one of their lead members died young of cancer, killing the startup’s momentum and the game itself. The website for the project went offline mid-2018.

Disgaea 2

I hadn’t played a Disgaea since the original Atlus PS2 release of the first game, but at some point (probably out of “let’s support these PC ports” idiocy), I bought this ages back. What pushed me to install it for this backlog rush was that during Christmas, someone bought me the freshly released Disgaea 5 Complete, and if I’m going to play that, I want to knock off the one I already own before what I’ve been told is The New Champion in the series.

I legit didn’t realize this warning screen was a full cutscene until I was halfway into the game and let it boot in the background. I was surprised.

I caught on to one of the twists partway through. I think it was chapter 3 or thereabouts. I did not pick up the other until right before it happened, and at the end, I confess I was tearing up a bit in the last chapters. The big thing that killed me is I started min-maxing early, not realizing (remembering?) that there were straight up “you lose” points in the campaign if you were too potent to die. I had fun overall! I’m just spacing out grind-tacular SRPG games and making sure I get a bunch between 2 and 5. It’s really hard to think of much to say about this because Disgaea is… kind of a known quantity? You know if you want it or not.

Also there is no way in hell I do the Axel campaign. That dude sucks.

Shower With Your Dad Simulator 2015: Do You Still Shower With Your Dad

I know this has a bunch of bonus modes in it but I played a few rounds of the basic ones because my wife wouldn’t stop suggesting this be the next game on my backlog pile5 and I think I’m good here.

Sudoku Universe

This is the first one I’m gonna invoke the 6+ hour rule on just because while I’m going to play this for ages as a cool-off game before bed, it won’t be done for ages with a few hundred puzzles. It’s sudoku. There is an interesting aspect where it’s got a shared launcher for the few other puzzle titles the company has on Steam, though, so I can just use one executable for all of them I install, swapping puzzle types at will. Pretty cool touch.

Q.U.B.E.: Director’s Cut

This one was incredibly short, my final playtime was under 4 hours. But that tracks given that this game very clearly took a lot of inspiration from the original Portal – a two-button interface with jump key that has you solving puzzles in pre-constructed chambers, as an unseen woman monologues at you and, in this case, your broken radio prevents you from answering back.

I actually burned through this one faster than expected, in about three? sittings, maybe a fourth due to taking a break near the endgame. The part where it diverges from Portal is that you’re actually interacting with colored cubes – red ones can be extended or shrunk, blue ones are springboards, yellow ones come in trios that you can manipulate the size of, and later on, you start getting into more and more odd ones than these, but those are your building blocks for the whole game.

As the game went on, it started playing a lot more with space and construction. Not as easy to show in screenshots: the walls here are “breathing” or have a kind of rhythmic heartbeat to them.

If you actually want a couple of spoilers for it, I’ll go into that next paragraph, but this one left me really sated, the standalone puzzle race mode had a whole bunch of new concepts and powerups to interact with that mean I’ve left it installed to keep screwing around with, and, since I am a hoarder, I got to discover I own the sequel to the game too, so I’ve actually begun installing that in the background. I’m excited!

Okay here’s the spacing before I talk about the story concept and one moment that really haunted me. Also, in looking things up, apparently this narrative is only in the Director’s Cut version? So that’s a thing.

It was really hard to catch the ‘distortion’ effect that appears on your screen sometimes in moments of high action, which start appearing later on in the game. So that’s why this is here. Not just to pad the article away from the spoiler section.

So. The Portal comparisons last a little more in that you have two people you’re in contact with for the game: an (unnamed?) astronaut woman who can only radio you when the ISS is on the side of earth facing the cube (QUBE?) you’re in, and a very Rat Man-esque figure who seems to have lost his mind but might also be more aware of what’s going on than you are. The former insists you’re another astronaut who was sent into this alien thing hurtling towards Earth to dismantle it from the inside, which, to be fair, your progress seems to be doing as you go along and it begins breaking apart, or entire sections are done without power, or the like. But the latter insists you’re just another rat in the maze “who’s going to be abandoned in the dark forever”, and the former doesn’t acknowledge the other for the longest time, eventually claiming the fellow is a long-presumed-dead astronaut whose disappearance seems to have been him crashing into the structure.

I won’t lay out how it ends, because the final chapter has some pretty good tension there, but there was one scene that was some excellent horror in miniature: at one point, you’re under the structure of the cube, and it’s misfiring things, entire sections have you walking on rebar-like structures connecting shattered stone, lights aren’t working, and wires hang loose. The whole time, she’s telling you something she “can’t tell Mission Control”, but since you have no radio, she feels safe sharing it. The story goes that a recent space-walk had her outside the station to repair paneling, but the fact that she was somehow more isolated than ever just got to her. She had to focus on her work and keep her head together while a voice, her own voice, started talking to her from outside the suit, in the void. It just kept whispering and building and by the time it got audible enough to decipher, all it told her were three words: “God is dead.” And then it went silent and she was alone.

I’m underselling it, because the actor really does put her all into the scene. It’s legitimately terrifying the way she spins this, and it just made me realize that in one moment, this game had done more to lean into first person puzzle/horror than another Portal-clone I’d gone through, the pretty-mediocre Lovecraft homage Magrunner: Dark Pulse, where the only horror comes from the fact that in the back half of the game, you just have sahaguin chasing your ass around voids while you try to solve the rooms.

Remaining clears before hiatus ends: 30/36

Endless Hellscape: Son of Scoregasm

It’s really weird to realize just how long it’s been since I played the original Scoregasm, one of the first indie titles to hit Steam that I was praising to high heaven before the modern shooter resurgence began. It had a Darius-style progression system, except it would let you pick up from anywhere on the branching path you liked to continue onwards. Getting stuck 5 stages into a route? You can leave and come back when you have more practice elsewhere. As a bonus, every single stage had a customized challenge for when you completed it, for a bit of replay value that kept me going for quite a bit.

It also threw into stark relief how much Steam’s become an unusable mess as a storefront, because I didn’t know until December 2018 that there was a sequel, Son of Scoregasm, released at the tail end of 2017. It never recommended it to me “because you played the only prior game from the dev on the service at length” or “because you’ve been playing Dariusburst CS and other shooters a lot” or a lot of other reasons – no, I only saw it because I got it drawn completely random out of a digital hat fucking around with the store’s absolutely terrible “discovery queue” system in the sale to get some trading cards. Even then, it told me it was recommending it to me not because it thought I would like it, but “just to see if I might be interested”.

No, really.

I would have to revisit the original to be sure, but somehow, Son of Scoregasm doesn’t quite feel as… together, I guess? as the original package. Less levels, it doesn’t seem to run as smoothly (maybe it’s loading but the menus have some serious framerate issues), the challenge mode isn’t there, and the new scoring system feels finicky to me. The original game had a basic “continue the combo for more bonus”, the new one gives you a meter that will bomb anything in a radius around you and convert it into score multipliers. The issue is that at a certain point, there are enemies which I’m pretty sure you can only kill with this bomb, and so if you haven’t played that stage before to know where these are (since the goal of every stage is to survive all waves and kill all enemies), it basically means you’re occasionally going to eat shit and have to redo a stage, or play an incredibly harrowing game of keep-away with your gun pushing them back ineffectively while you try not to be cornered on some of the stranger shaped levels.

Here’s a cross-section of some of the stages, and their shapes or perma-hazards. Others include walls made of fire, rotating irregular shaped lasers like you’re inside one of the vectors from Asteroids. or more.

I just don’t feel like it’s as thrilling as it once was, is the thing. There are no powerups. There MIGHT be a second ship, based on one achievement, but I have no idea how to unlock it after clearing 2.5 branches out of 7. More than a few stages are too damn annoying to want to revisit for the score medals, of which I only discovered by accident since the tutorial’s not amazing. I kept leaving stages with a score multiplier of 0, since I didn’t realize the bomb was a mechanic for a while (the default controls map it to a trigger on my controller). Until you get to the final stage on a branch, where bosses await, you’re just sitting around fighting mooks and occasionally the layout, and it’s all the same ship, and it’s so very, very samey.

But it was fast, and it was cheap, and while I found myself disappointed, I also can’t blame a one-dude studio for putting out something like this which he hustled onto multiple platforms, including the PS Vita, in 2017. I might not recommend it to all my friends this time, but it’ll make sure I keep an eye out for anything new he does in future.

Remaining clears before hiatus ends: 35/36

Endless Hellscape: 2019 and the Backlog Quest

A little under a year ago now, I talked about how I needed to cut down my backlog and get more responsible with my spending.

Then somehow I gained over 200 games in under that year. Clearly my old plan was a bit half-assed. So I set a resolution for the year: starting with Steam’s winter sale, I was not going to allow myself to purchase anything until I cleared 2x what I bought in that sale from my backlog, and hold to this rule going forward.

The only problem with this plan: I bought 18 games. (Don’t give me that look. Most were in a bundle. I love me some Picross.) So now I’ve got to clear 36 titles, and the problem is, even with my love of casual titles, I’m still going to be sinking a lot of time into things just to cross those off the list. Luckily, I had a lot of half-installed things I could blitz through, and I’m allowing myself a new rule this year1: if I go 6 hours into something and can’t find any reason to push onwards, I’m just marking it as “complete” and moving onto another title. I don’t want to abuse this rule, but I have assloads of bundle fodder in genres I’m not usually a fan of, and while I intend to give anything an honest try, I know there will be cases where I should just bite the bullet rather than let something linger.

The other caveat: it doesn’t have to be on Steam. I’ve got games on more platforms than I want to admit, and that ~6k amount is by no means the entirety of my collection. It just means writing the posts about some of the others will be harder to take screenshots or video for at the moment. Boy, I wish the 3DS’ screenshot functionality was more consistently usable.

I’m already down two so far in the new year, so let’s get on with this!