The Mommy Gamers

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Keir Anderson

    A blast from the past: Sid Meier’s SimGolf

    Nostalgia can be wonderful, but rose-tinted glasses also exist. That’s what makes going back and replaying your old favorites a dangerous endeavor. Scratching an itch can almost be orgasmic (maybe that’s just me?) but can also draw blood and generate scar tissue that never truly heals.

    There will be lots on that nostalgic list of games. Most of us reading this have grown up playing over generations of arcades, consoles and PC’s. You darn kids will have shorter lists with (ugh) Fortnite and the likes currently being added to them. Those from the before times, such as Marcia, will have tomes of game titles that will bring a smile painfully to their withered faces.

    For me, Sid Meier’s SimGolf is an everlasting member on that list. The forgotten child of Sid Meier simulation games, released in 2002 by Firaxis and EA games. In it, you take on the role of golf resort manager and golf pro. It mixes sport, RPG and creative genres in a simplistically pure and wonderful way.

    If I had a million dollars …

    Obviously, the theme of the game is golf. But it would be silly of you (bad reader *smacks you on the nose*) to think that this is solely a game for golfers. As with most great games, the setting is superfluous and only acts as the conduit to the gameplay. But, then again, I am Scottish and so I may be a little biased here.

    In the end, the game is split into two parts. The first is actually creating the golf course. The various maps set around the world are a grid, and you can spend your money developing each hole with various block types. There is nothing conspicuous here. There are fairway blocks and a couple of different types of bunker (sand trap for the uncultured among you). There are various lengths of rough, and brush and types of water hazard. You can build pro shops, and putting greens and hotels and more. There is nothing silly or beyond belief, but the game keeps its sense of humor too. This is a Sims game, and it will feel and sound very familiar to you whilst you play.

    there are a lot of crocs and ducks on my new hole. I may want o do something about that

    But what would be a golf course if you cannot play it. Your avatar gives you the opportunity to play your designs, whether in a friendly game, a professional match or a tournament, should your course meet the requirements. It is here that the RPG elements take their stand. You are given points for your avatar and you can spend them in numerous ways. Do you want to play consistent straight golf like Arnold? Smash your way round like Tiger? Or perhaps you want to recover and play the wonder shots like Seve? You can do all that here.

    Accurate … ish

    But it is the combination of these RPG and creative genres that makes this game work so well. Creating a course is fun in itself, but watching others or yourself play it can make the creation even better. After a round, you can change the course. Perhaps the fairway should not be as wide at a certain point. Maybe we need a bunker at this landing zone to make it more challenging. What if we raised the green up a little bit? The playing helps the creative side and the creative side makes the playing more fun. It is an ongoing loop making your game better and keeps the player coming back.

    And SimGolf is more “one-for-the-ages” than even a game like Pac-Man. This is an unsupported game. Where can you buy it? Ebay at best. And it won’t immediately run on Windows 10! This is an old game and one that may have a fan following but did not win the mass appeal that is needed to keep a game going in the public domain for decades after its release.

    So why am I writing this now? A shot of nostalgia (kind of like coffee but with more sparkles) and an urge to google. I discovered one of many sites that allow you to download and run abandoned software. It even came with a comment section where users share their wisdom about the game but, most importantly, how to run it now. And this is a wonderful thing. Humanity has a strong will that precludes us from allowing a book, any book, from been burned or destroyed. And it is wonderful to see that continue in video games.

    I need a trophy like that, but with achievements like “eats donut”

    Sid Meier’s Simgolf is no Guttenberg bible or complete works of Shakespeare, but it is clearly more than just I who wants to keep it from being turned to the flame. This is a piece of history. My history. Our history. And I am glad it is here to stay.

    So, what has it been like to play? It is everything I remember it to be! This is not a game with amazing graphics or some twist in the story that will have me talking for years. But this is a game that is incredibly well made. It reminds me why Sid Meier is Sid Meier. Why I am in love video games. And how game-play is ultimately king.

    With my view warmly rosy, I am thrilled this is an itch I can continue to scratch … and scratch …  and scratch.

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    Dawn of Man Review

    Most of us have seen it. And if we haven’t, then we have seen it parodied on the likes of the Simpsons. 2001: A Space Odyssey is a classic. It was revolutionary in a number of ways that I am neither knowledgeable nor smart enough to describe. But all viewers are left with some vivid imagery and themes that remain with us.

    At the forefront for me, beyond that amazing score, is the black monolith at the beginning of the movie, appearing before a group of monkeys. The dawn of man. The moment it all changed. The inspiration and cause of all that was to come.

    The game “Dawn of Man” is none of those things. But that does not mean that it is not a perfectly OK game to play.

    The game’s premise is pretty straight forward; You start with a few villagers and you need to build them a home and help them to survive. This is a resource management game and brings up memories of Banished and even Age of Empires. New technologies are discovered. New resources are exploited. But what is ultimate important is survival.

    In reading previews, I felt this game’s main selling points were 2-fold. First, the setting was somewhat unique. You are starting from scratch, from the dawn of man (hence the name) and can build your group through numerous technological advances to something closer resembling our own world. All whilst fighting off saber tooth tigers and who doesn’t like the sound of that?

    Sadly, the game never really lives up to this. It has all the moving parts and they are in what feels like the right places but it just never felt important. I constantly felt I was in a rush to get the right resources in place to get the next building or the next technology, without feeling like the tribe had actually discovered something. It was unearned and meaningless. This is supposed to be the dawn of man, not production line simulator.

    The second was that this game looked like it was going to be a more personal affair. Those who have read my previous reviews know how important this is to me. Where Age of Empires has nameless drones, static through the ages, Dawn of Man has individuals with names, a family and a potentially bloody future ahead of them. Banished had attempted also this but the cities you create become too large too quickly for you to truly care about a particular person or family.

    In Dawn of Man players take control of a settlement of the first modern humans, guiding them through the ages in their struggle for survival.

    Dawn of Man should not have had that problem. With fewer people to care for, I should have cared more. But I didn’t. I wish I did. In some respects, a game like this should have been closer to The Sims than to Age of Empires. To Rimworld rather than Banished. It should have had more personal interaction and control than a point and click adventure without a story. Dawn of Man basically leaves you in the position of finding a resource and telling a villager to go and get it. Not exactly inspiring stuff.

    And that is not to say that this or those games are not good games. Dawn of Man does give you a sense of achievement as your village continues to survive and develop. It is also certainly a pretty game which makes it a nice way to pass some time. But as with so many others, and especially those that set themselves at the very beginnings of our existence (I’m looking at you Spore), Dawn of Man promised so much but didn’t quite have the complete picture of what these times meant and what they mean to gamers like me.

    It is at times like these that the philosopher in me takes hold. I’m not being melodramatic; I actually have a degree in philosophy. Games set at the dawn of man excite me because they allow me to scratch an itch of wonder at what made it all happen. Could I survive? Could I have been a great thinker of the time or a Picasso of the ancient world (finger painting on walls was about as far as I got artistically so who knows).

    Dawn of Man could have been that monolith. It could have challenged the genre and brought about a new age. An interesting age that allowed us to look back and ask “what if?”. Instead, it is just another black rock, albeit very pretty, that could be lifted and placed into another era, past, present or future, without much needing changed. And that’s OK. But Dawn of Man will not be one for the ages, and the opportunity for inspiration may have passed for another time.

    You can purchase Dawn of Man in the Humble Bundle store here, or on Steam here.

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    MLB: The Show 2019

    “Here’s the 0-1. This is going to be a tough play. Bryant! The Cubs! Win the World Series! Bryant makes the play! It’s over! And the Cubs have finally won it all! 8-7 in 10.”

    I didn’t fall in love with baseball until I moved to Chicago in 2015 but the love affair started at a much earlier age. One of my earliest movie memories was watching Kevin Costner build his Field of Dreams. There is a romanticism to baseball. It woos you not with its rules or stats but with its history, what it stands for and how it brings people together.

    Since moving to the States I have tried to get involved with the sport in a number of ways. I watch almost every Cubs game, I have started playing fantasy baseball and I can’t wait for my kids to start playing T-ball. But I will never get to play myself. Not really.

    One way I have been making up for that is by playing SIE San Diego Studio’s “MLB The Show” franchise. I started in 2015 and have been playing it ever since. Buying the latest version has been my annual birthday present to myself and I love it every time.

    Here is today’s line up

    There are 3 main games modes; Road to the Show (RTTS), Franchise and Diamond Dynasty (DD). All three give you the opportunity in some way to live out your baseball fantasies. RTTS allows you to create a character and be drafted to a team. You start in the minors and work your way up to the majors with an end goal of being inducted to the Hall of Fame. Does it get better than that?

    Franchise allows you take on the role of Manager. You pick the lineup, you trade the players and you draft the next generation for whatever team you choose to lead. Not happy with how the computer determines who wins or loses? Well, you can take control of a single player or the entire team and those wins and losses will be on you.

    DD allows you to create your own team centered on collecting and trading electronic Topps baseball cards. With your team you can play in various game modes both on and offline, providing you with new cards, or various types of points that you can then use to purchase packs.

    Fly ball to left field

    Home Run!

    In previous years I have primarily focused on RTTS and franchise modes but decided to give DD a proper shot in 2019 and I have not been disappointed. I collected (American) football cards as a kid and the need-to-get-them-all attitude I had then has certainly been reignited, primarily because the cards end up doing and meaning more than just a piece of cardboard.

    Each card means a new player can be added to my team, who will then compete in the various game modes. But do I have someone better? Do I want someone with higher fielding stats or do I want a slugger? There are lots of options and subjective preferences, which makes this a very personal affair. There is even a creative side as the player can design their own uniforms for both home and away games.

    Play ball!

    I have only had the chance to play the offline game modes but I have been having a lot of fun with them. The 2 main options are Conquest and Moments.

    Conquest has various maps made up of hexagonal blocks that can be filled with your or other teams’ “fans”. Each team has a particular block that represents their home base. The aim of the game is to attack other blocks to take them over using your “fans”. When attacking a block you will play a 3 inning game. How hard that game will be is determined by the number of attacking and defending fans on their respective blocks. The greater your advantage in fan numbers, the easier difficulty you can play on. Taking over the entire map will give the player lots of points and plenty of high ranking cards.

    Moments is a new addition to DD this year and allows the player to play some of the greatest moments in baseball history. There is an entire section on Babe Ruth and one on the 2016 Cubs. The challenges are hard but the rewards great. And, frankly, who doesn’t want to recreate the moment the Cubs ended a 108 year world series drought? Just Cubs fans? Nah.

    Online matches are definitely on my list as soon as I can get myself online properly. Online game modes allow you join leagues with your team, play in a battle royale mode (where you effectively do a draft from random cards prior to starting) and also play games for fun with your friends or a stranger.

    Extra innings

    I grew up on (American) football so I played a lot of Madden in my youth. Creating a player was always fun but I never felt that I was really part of the action. I never felt that my personal skills were being put to the test or that I was part of a team. MLB The Show betters Madden for that experience by leaps and bounds.

    In the dugout

    Whether my player does well or not is down to me. Am I swinging at junk in the dirt? Did I try to steal a base I shouldn’t have? that is all on me. But it also reminds me that I am playing a team sport and that I cannot control everything. I can be 4 for 4 with a home run, a double and 3 RBIs, but I could still easily lose if the rest of the team is not playing well or the other team just happens to play better. And that has happened a lot. The game makes you feel that you part of it and that is a good thing.

    There are still some issues that mean this game is not perfect but nothing ever is. And when you are talking about a game that looks to give a personal experience, then personal preferences and gripes will always come into play. So I won’t give you mine. What matters is that these are so small, that I still come back to the game each year. Whether its summer ball or the off-season, I am still rounding the bases and heading for third. The replay value is immense.

    This is a game for me. This is a game for baseball fans. Why? For love of the game.

    The Standard edition of MLB The Show 2019 is available for download on the Playstation Network store for $59.99 or available on disc at your local games retailer and also on Amazon.

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    You’re not special

    You're Not Special Game Review The Mommy Gamers

    We are living in a golden age of indie games. Whether it is Stardew Valley, Her Story, Papers, Please or Firewatch, these are games from small production companies that have something to say. They show that it isn’t unlimited resources that make a good game but an interesting premise and good execution. That is not to say that every indie game to hit the market is a masterpiece, or even worth your time. But we now live in a world where we can buy fun, inspiring or interesting games for a reasonable price. And the list just keeps on growing.

    You’re not special by Reky Studios fits itself nicely into that mold. You play a character who is not the center of the story. You are just some guy who happens to be in wrong place at the wrong time, or the right place at the right time, and finds himself unable to do much about it. I can’t see Ubisoft making a game like that.

    Its what you do with it that counts

    The game itself is reasonably short and can be “completed” from anywhere between 5 minutes and 3 hours, with multiple endings to entice players into replying the game several times. It is primarily a puzzle game but also has action scenes that your character plays a minor role in. But it is not the puzzles that will keep you coming back for more, as good as they are. Once you’ve solved them, its just a matter of replication. It is the story that Reky has developed that keeps you intrigued enough to want find out how each ending evolves.

    And how do they do that? With writing that is informative enough to give you a glimpse of what might be to come and keep you wanting to know more. The use of hearing old wives tales in front of a fireplace and the general feeling that you are jumping into someone else’s story half way through is an intriguing device and one they have developed nicely.

    The other NPCs of the story have their own background, which can lead to side quests, and can often be very funny, with even some 4th wall breaking humor thrown into the mix. But they are used fleetingly, and are generally there to assist you in making or spending your money and progressing the story.

    Throughout all of this there are constant reminders that this is not your adventure. You have no significant power. It takes you longer than the hero to make your way through the various mazes. You do not fight the bad guy, at least not directly. And there are items at the village market that you will never buy. Sure, you can scrounge enough silver together to buy a cloak, but it would take you a very long time to buy armor or a sword. And there is no need; you are not the hero. You are not special.

    But my mom says I’m special

    But the game is. Its fun, its interesting, and its challenging. Sometimes infuriatingly so. And sometimes I feel there should be something to point you in the right direction. Playing through, I missed that there was an extra passageway for me to use to meet the next boss and spent 30 minutes wondering why I couldn’t go any further. It took a question to the developer on their discord to know what to do. That won’t be available forever and not everyone will choose to ask.

    There are also secret exits to the map, for example, that are needed to progress some of the story. That would have infuriated me if I had not been lucky enough to find it by chance. But there are also secrets I did not solve and storylines I did not complete that do make me curious to come back for more.

    Ultimately, it is the fact that this game meets each of my tenants for a good indie game that makes me recommend it for your wishlist. It is fun, the fact that it was even made (and by a single game developer I might add) is inspiring and the entire concept is interesting. All this and at reasonable price. This is why indie games can be great. Welcome to the golden age.

    You’re not special was developed by Reky Studios and is currently available for download for Windows on Steam.

    *The Mommy Gamers received a copy of the game for review purposes.

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