It's a place all right.

June 27, 2023 (Originally posted on Neocities)

Steam Next Fest June 2023 Demos

Guess what time it is. If you somehow didn’t read the title, well, it’s more demos. I actually had time to go over several this time, even outside of the weekend. No VR ones this time.

Broken Lens
I thought this looked cute so I checked it out. It’s a fairly typical spot the difference game, involving robots on an alien planet of some type. The art is nice and there’s hidden bonus things. It did take me a moment to figure out that I had to pan around the scene by dragging around, and there’s some parallax effect going on so there can be some finding stuff behind stuff. This demo also had achievements for some reason and I got all of those just by finding everything. Probably a great game if you like spot the difference games. I found the music to sound a bit glitchy and slightly annoying after a bit but that can be adjusted if needed. The interface has essentially been designed for tablets, or possibly Steam Deck touchscreen functionality, given the big buttons without words and everything being controlled purely by the mouse.

Nour: Play With Your Food
This is some kind of physics sandbox with audio tied to various things happening. It’s about random food and throwing things at things, whether food is the thing being thrown or what things are being thrown at, as well as other tools, all in the name of doing physics type stuff like cutting coins or burning or grinding everything. That’s about it. More of a thing to mess with than something with plot or direction or anything in that vein, and I’m not sure if there’s a deeper meaning here either. Mainly I just mashed buttons for a bit without really trying to follow any rhythm, which it says to do to the background music, which I didn’t really pay attention to either.

Starship Simulator
This apparently was a tech demo as mentioned in the title screen. Mainly the only things to do are to steer the ship to various checkpoints with the FTL drive and walk around it in a very physics-y body that headbobs all over the place. There’s also the ability to ragdoll with a button or if tripping over the various physics objects scattered in some otherwise empty rooms, including arrangements of things like toiletries and foodstuffs. I just found it funny how the potted plants were called “pot plant” and it was easy to shove things through the windows into the still-having-gravity emptiness of space.

This is a visual novel with an addition of something that resembles a weird retro style of Miiverse in some strange alternate universe where low-poly 3D graphics didn’t take off until much later, and the previous console, the one the player is using in this, was a fairly high resolution 2-color dual-screen thing, and the Final Fantasy parallel was only just getting its first sequel around then. Also the console has a webcam that allows video chat, as in video feed and text chat without audio. I feel like I’d have preferred a more Hypnospace approach to this where it involves browsing the communities and finding things while fully simulating the console’s UI rather than being a visual novel about relationships. Also I managed to softlock this demo because I couldn’t exit the Miiverse clone to continue the “real world story” on the desk since it thought there were still unread posts, but I was pretty sure I’d gone over them several times.

The first demo in this set that just didn’t work at all. It’s supposed to be one of those ChatGPT-based things about asking questions to characters to figure out… something, I guess, but the program didn’t even load and just crashed immediately or after a minute, even after checking the files and all that usual troubleshooting stuff. The future of “AI”-written games are certainly looking great here. Take notes, Ubisoft.

This is a weird visual novel taking place in a post-human robot society and involving a therapist who’s career method is hardly existent and definitely in need of work. It’s also a fairly self-aware comedy where characters have names that constantly play a “Who’s on first” sort of thing. There’s also a minigame involving driving down a road. That’s about it. I just thought it’d be a weird thing and it certainly was, though I’m not thinking I’d follow up on this one either.

Olliefrog Toad Skater
This game is so much a Tony Hawk-like game that even the syllable count and rhyming scheme in the name lines up with “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater”. That’s not a bad thing though, as after dealing with the wacky physics of SkateBIRD frequently overriding the skateboarding aspect itself, it was pretty refreshing to have an animal skating game control as I would expect a game like this to do so, even in the demo version. And of course it’s about frogs, as indie games still have a thing with that. It’s a fairly sized demo in scope as it comes with three levels, one of which has a tutorial mode and a 2-minute arcade mode, as well as customizing the frog to a fair degree with different color patterns and accessories, including that ancient meme fish with the funny smiley face that’s gotten popular recently. Scambabambapis or however that’s spelled.
The game controls a lot like an Underground game, down to the default controls on the Xbox controller I was using, as it involves also being able to get off the board, even mid-combo. However, falling in the water isn’t an out of bounds trigger, instead the skating continues and there’s all kinds of ramps and things at the bottom, with the main indication that there’s skating happening underwater being an audio and visual filter of sorts. This is probably due to playing as an amphibious creature, as I don’t think the physics really change much if at all between the two. Otherwise there don’t seem to be any out of bounds respawns, as the levels are just surrounded by some kind of solid or partially visibly solid wall, either some kind of fence or a bunch of cones. There are no “lo-fi birb-hop” songs about herons here (which if there were, depending on the prey of certain birds, could be in poor taste), rather it’s songs that seem to fit the skateboard angle more in terms of rock and punk style, mixed in with some other indie game-sounding tracks that might be found in other frog games of various genres.
If I do have nitpicks, it’s that the on foot camera vertical controls seem flipped and that should be able to be changed, but that’s not really a problem while on the skateboard as it seems to lock the camera in a decent vertical position then. Given that I’m probably not going to be playing that Tony Hawk 1+2 remake anytime soon for whatever reasons I have for that (largely Activision-related ones), I’d probably end up looking more into this one once it’s out.

Here’s a puzzle game with a weird mechanic involving cameras. Not sure if this is a particular mechanic that Valve’s F-Stop project had a go at, but either way it’s a pretty cool one. In short it involves picking up pictures and sticking their contents in the world, attaching them to the current level from their current perspective, even being able to attach picture contents onto previously placed ones. Also there’s a rewind feature that I only really used once for a tutorial, a power that the player character has for unexplained reasons, but that’s more to undo steps rather than be part of a puzzle, at least as far as the demo goes. Eventually there’s a camera to take pictures and place their contents in the world, and that seems highly exploitable, which also seems to be by design, which means potentially a lot of fun.
I guess one thing that seems weird to me is that sometimes a person is talking to the player character, and I initially took them for the character’s own monologue, which for all I know it actually is the player character talking to themselves, but then they didn’t seem to pop up past the initial parts. Also the audio logs only play at their location, which is something that I would think was already figured out to not do, but at least they’re generally short. As far as the core game itself, though, I find it pretty cool and hope it ends up being a good one when it’s out.

Goodbye Volcano High
Yep, this game again, but there’s a new demo. For one thing, it runs a fair bit better, with noticeably less of an awkward loading pause between each line, though the playback is still a bit stilted in the usual “video game” way. For another thing, it gets right into the plot-inducing incident of the impending asteroid that’s going to wipe out the teenage dinosaurs, then it gets right back to general teenage stuff but with that hanging over their heads. Particularly, it takes place some time after the previous demo, so having some bit of knowledge from that might help with parsing some elements from this one, given it’s all from the same story. The demo also ends at kind of a random point at the end of a scene but with no cliffhanger type thing either. And it also has to be force quit to exit after the demo ends, once again, as far as I could tell. Hopefully that’s just a demo thing and there’s an actual exit button in the full version for PC at least.
I’m still not sure that I’d want to play this when it’s out as I’m still not really wanting to play Telltale-likes at the moment, let alone angsty teenager ones about facing the impending apocalypse. Mainly I just wanted to see if things had improved since the previous demo, and they did. There’s also the absence of rhythm minigames this time, though pretty sure those are sticking around in the full version, but a there are couple of choice dialogs that involve pushing extra buttons to make a choice, like in the previous demo, because they really want to drive home… something? The whole choice interface is frequently messed with in some way.
One thing I’d like to propose, as far as Telltale-likes go, is to not have to show that “_____ WILL REMEMBER THIS” thing in the corner every time that supposedly impacts something. Maybe just be able to turn that off entirely and have people be surprised as to what little influences can have major results. Then maybe have a thing like in Until Dawn where the outcomes can be traced back to their roots, the “butterfly effect” thing I think they called it, just so people can confirm that their decisions did something at some point. But just at least have the option to not show a notification every time a variable flips there. I feel like the “impactful choices” thing has been a bit played out by now and also deconstructed and parodied many times to where I feel it can be put back together and improved. If anything, to have it feel more natural in storytelling.
This only leaves a couple questions: Does this take place before humanity like that Dinosaurs show from decades back? And what do they use to fuel their cars?

Home Safety Hotline
This is of course a retro-styled horror game because those are always in fashion by the looks of things. This time it’s about old Windows PC stuff, namely being a customer support helper running through a database to figure out what problem callers have, whether it’s bugs or vermin or mold or duendes (related to goblins, gnomes, other such types of creatures). And sometimes there’s random calls of unidentified issues or complaints that don’t get resolved and it’s just to set some potential unsettling mood adjacent to horror, like the horrors of working customer service. This was a short demo and I’m not really sure what there is as a hook in terms of either just continuing to match cases with their likely cause or if there will be something else coming.

The Invincible
This seems to be a narrative exploration type adventure, mainly wandering around a desert type planet to figure out what went down and if there’s any deeper secrets to the planet. It’s sort of a retro sorta-brutalist sci-fi style, and somehow getting photographic records from disabled robots produces some kind of sketch drawings, and I’m not sure if this is due to them not having made the final assets for those or if that’s intentional. At one point late in the demo I somehow managed to break the looking around controls by possibly taking out or putting away a metal detector thing while running, to where I could only fully look around while the detector was out. It seems neat enough at least, I might check it out later on if I feel up for it.

Little Kitty, Big City
This is of course a game where you play as a cat who does cat things like run around and jump on stuff and knock things over. It seems to be like Stray but far less dramatic, such as being in a cartoony style and taking place in some Japanese neighborhood going by the architecture and animals present. There was a goal to unlock climbing, but I didn’t find enough shiny things to unlock it, even after figuring out I could throw out cans to get those, instead I ended up finding feathers by catching birds, which is a catch and release thing in this case, but the feathers would keep ending up in water. The weird thing about water is that somehow even geometry that’s poking out above it, like if a manhole cover is elevated or there’s a curb nearby, still somehow counts as water and causes the cat to jump out of it. But at least there’s hats to unlock.

HAELE 3D – Feet Poser Pro
I downloaded this as a joke when I saw it, but the real joke was that it didn’t work and just kept getting stuck on a black screen. If I had gotten it to work I probably would have just tried to break it anyway. Something about non-Euclidean feet pics to put onto some eldritch paysite where people pay with their souls to see those kinds of soles, whether or not they actually have that part of their anatomy. Maybe that’s a game concept that could work, regardless of how much it would actually appeal to certain audiences. Maybe more like that HunieCam Studio game that I never played so I only kind of know about it.

A Tiny Sticker Tale
I’d heard of some sticker-based game being highlighted by a number of gaming type news type site type things. I think for the most part they meant another game because I played this instead. Mainly I didn’t feel like simulating a sticker shop, rather I’d use them as tools as they are in this demo. This donkey runs around placing down stickers to do things like solve problems and undo the very minor inconveniences of a raccoon who has the same power. It’s fairly cute and the demo was a decent but short length, and I was also reminded of Atari Adventure because one part involved carrying a bridge over to a river to cross it. There weren’t any duck dragons in the demo however.

This game seems to be about making abstract lo-fi beats to fight The Man to. It’s presented in a paper crayon style where a frog runs around to collect samples and compose them into tapes, which are used in some kind of concert thing that involves adjusting the levels of certain types of samples to the liking of the listeners. There are additional tapes to collect which come with their own predefined samples that others can be added around. So it’s a bit more of a puzzle game as far as I can tell.

And that’s Steam demos for this season. I’ll see if I end up doing another round of these later, which would probably be in October if they stick to their previous patterns, or if I’ll be too busy messing with Starfield on Game Pass if that’s out by then, or some other thing entirely. Either way, I’ll need to remember to check out the games I did find interesting from this set and previous ones when they’re out. After all, even with Skyrim With Guns In Space being a potential major focus and time sink for the usual reasons, I’ve generally found random indie stuff more interesting in the long run. That’s probably also coming from being tired of “modern gaming” in terms of giant releases with massive open worlds and possibly a bunch of DLC of varied scope.

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