In these unprecedented times, it seems that almost every aspect of our lives is subject to near-constant uncertainty and change. There seems to be only one thing we can be truly certain of; for the coming weeks the vast majority of us are about to be spending a lot more of our time safely stowed indoors. Without access to the outside world, and much more free time, most of us are now struggling to find new ways to keep ourselves entertained.
The obvious solution is to incorporate video-games into our daily routines. Games provide essential mental stimulation which can keep your brain in gear over this period of prolonged inactivity, they can be of great educational value and even allow you to socialise with others in a fulfilling way which importantly runs no risk of breaking social distancing guidelines.
This guide aims to help make the wonderful world of PC video-games open to everyone and by following these simple steps you should be able to game like a pro in no time!
1. Find out which games you want to play
There are a huge variety of games available from countless genres. Although this may seem overwhelming at first, a quick web search can show you a long list of games per genre and below we have listed some of the more popular types of game to get you started.
Just a side note: for users who only have access to a laptop computer with a track-pad, I would highly recommend investing in a cheap USB mouse if you do not already have one. Most games simply require more precise control than what is offered by most track-pads.
Once you have a list of a few titles you want to try or even just a rough idea of the type of games you want to play, you can move on to the next step.
2. Check which games you can run
It’s a common misconception that you need a purpose built “gaming PC” to play any games. Although some gamers opt to build a customised computer from scratch, most mid-range systems bought directly from a high-street retailer are surprisingly powerful nowadays, and can play a decent range of titles out of the box.
The ‘Can you run it‘ tool from System Requirements Lab is an excellent resource in finding which games you can run on your machine, potentially saving you money on a wasted purchase. Users simply type the name of the game they want to play in the search bar and hit enter. After following the on-screen instructions you are told if your computer meets the “minimum” or “recommended” requirements.
Where you meet the “recommended” spec for a game, you can expect buttery smooth performance at the highest graphical settings. On the other hand, meeting only the “minimum” shows that you can run the game, but it may need some in-game options tweaking to run smoothly. Where you don’t meet either the “minimum” or “recommended” requirements, it’s unlikely the game will run properly, so it’s best to stay away!
If you’re having no luck and can’t meet the required specification for any of your selected titles, below we have some examples of popular games which are optimised to run on particularly low-spec machines. If any of these catch your eye, you can do a quick online search to find their official sites to find out more.
3. Download launchers and buy your games
Most games need a “launcher”; a unified hub which allows you to buy and run your games, collect achievements to monitor your progress and interact with other users over social features. The most popular video-game launcher is Steam, although there are alternatives such as Uplay, Origin, Battle.net and the Epic Games Store. Each launcher offers a slightly different experience and selection of games, although most carry similar basic features it is still worth checking whether the game you want is locked to a specific launcher to avoid wasting time downloading unnecessary programs.
All launchers require individual accounts, and it’s worth trying to make these accounts as secure as possible. Follow password length recommendations and make sure your accounts are tied to a secure email so that you can recover if necessary.
Once you have your launcher set up, you can navigate through digital storefronts and finally start buying your games!
4. Try free titles and look for giveaways
If you’re not keen on spending any money on games, the online gaming retailer GOG is generously offering a selection of classic games for free specifically to be enjoyed by individuals who are in isolation! Alternatively, you can keep your eye out for other free giveaways through the freegames subreddit; an online forum where users keep each other up to date on current game giveaways.
StarCrossed is an arcade space shooter developed by Contigo Games and published by Whitethorn Digital. The game has two players dodging projectiles and bouncing a shiny star between one another, lining up shots to defeat wave after wave of enemies. It’s a charming mix of Pong meets Tohou Project, and certainly a breath of fresh air for fans of the bullet-hell genre. To learn a little more about StarCrossed before you read on, you can visit the successfully funded Kickstarter page or watch the trailer below:
Following the games’ recent release, I sat down with Francesca Carletto-Leon, co-founder of Contigo Games and narrative designer of StarCrossed,for a chat regarding the title’s stunning art-style, the influences behind her cast of diverse space-faring sprites, the impact of her work as an educator and her opinions on the current state of the games industry.
Fun with friends:
What made you decide early on to build StarCrossed from the ground up as a co-op title?
“The answer is pretty simple; we’re big fans of cooperative games and want to see more of them! Games made specifically for 2 players are quite rare. Personally, I find it quite difficult to find games to play with my partner. We love local multiplayer games but often feel like they’re designed to be played with a group of people and we’re not having the optimal player experience.
I believe there is something intimate about playing a game with someone. We’re sharing a goal and learning how to cooperate. Communication is important and we adjust our play to accommodate another participant. Our goal as a studio is ‘to create games and playful expereinces to bring people together’. StarCrossed was intended to fulfil this purpose.”
A story to tell:
Implementing visual novel style cut-scenes must have meant a lot of extra writing and with all those words, what kind of story is StarCrossed going to tell?
“During development, we actually cut StarCrossed’s Story Mode multiple times. As a part-time, self-funded, and remote team we were finding it difficult to create a large independent project. In our desire to have the game finished, the team had a lot of difficult conversations about scope and Story Mode, which was daunting and by far the more complex part of the game, was scrapped. However, as we began showing the game publicly, we realised the importance of including a Story Mode to explore the characters, their relationships to each other, and the universe of StarCrossed. It was a ton of work but I’m so glad we were able to make Story Mode happen and I hope our players enjoy it!
The plot of StarCrossed is what players have come to expect from the magical girl fantasy-genre; a group of chosen heroes must band together to defeat evil and save the universe. We wanted the story beats to feel familiar. What makes the story engaging to players is seeing the situation presented through the different lenses of each character. Each combination of characters has their own unique dialogues and, sometimes, additional scenes with our cast of supporting characters and villains. Each time you play, the dialogues change depending on the selected characters, so it ended up being quite a bit of writing!
The final StarCrossed script is actually over 20,000 words! It’s a novella!”
The art-style seems to be a blend of fantasy and futuristic sci-fi. It’s eye-catching and adorable, but what ultimately do you hope to express with the way the game looks?
“Fantasy and sci-fi are both settings that our team really enjoys! We wanted the game to feel stylish and magical, but also contemporary and relatable to players.
If we’re digging deeper into our thinking, we see StarCrossed’s aesthetic as a reimagination of these established genres, which are often male-centric and standardised by cis white creators. Think about your favourite fantasy stories. What would they look like if marginalised people were involved in their creation? Just to state very clearly, I’m not saying these works aren’t vitally important and valuable, they totally are! But, we need to understand how much these genres could expand in the hands of different creators. There is no reason to not be inclusive in our design of fictional worlds.
Starcrossed‘s style and characters are cute and sparkly but the gameplay grows to be quite challenging. We’ve noticed that players make quick assumptions about the content of the game due to its visuals. Feminine games are often dismissed for being easy or ‘casual’. We hope to challenge those stereotypes.”
The aesthetic has also been clearly influenced by Japanese Magical Girls, what inspired you to bring this popular manga genre to a video game?
“Before we really solidified StarCrossed’s visual identity, we knew the game was going to be a cooperative local multiplayer game. When we began looking into designing the setting and context for the game’s mechanic, we were excited about the idea of making a game with feminine aesthetics. For many members of our team, Magical Girl shows and comics like Tokyo Mew Mew, W.I.T.C.H., and Sailor Moon were an important part of our childhoods. These are stories about young heroines who are tasked with saving the world, but are also growing up and dealing with the drama of being human! Between battling aliens and monsters they also deal with heartbreak and complex emotions.
The Magical Girl genre is centred around themes of teamwork and collaboration. In most examples, strangers from different backgrounds come together to achieve a common goal. These stories are about young girls being powerful and finding strength in being together. Anyone who has been a teenage girl knows that friendships at that age are terrifying and it’s common to feel alone. You’re also grappling with internalised misogyny that dictates girls are sneaky, bitchy, not to be trusted, so it’s so important to have media that shows girls uplifting each other and collaborating in positive ways!”
Following on from this, does the game aim to subvert the Magical Girl genre and, if so, how does it differ from other genre subversions we’ve seen before?
“We purposefully wanted StarCrossed to borrow common Magical Girl tropes, so we started from what we knew and expanded from there. It was important to us that we keep the playfulness of the genre and have our characters explore not only their new magical powers, but also their emotions. In Story Mode, each character navigates their relationship with their partner, with themselves, and with the universe.
We made it a goal to create an inclusive Magical Girl story, which includes people of colour, non-binary people, and body diversity. This is our way of subverting the genre and building upon the existing core themes.”
Are the relationships between characters entirely platonic? To put it another way, can we expect to see some romance emerge as the story progresses?
“The romance in StarCrossed isn’t overt, we intentionally wanted there to be a bit of nuance to the relationships. If you’re reading the relationship as romantic, it’s definitely there.
We wrote StarCrossed to be a gay space romance!
This was actually something we struggled with, so it’s a good question! Our team had many discussions about how explicitly we were showing romance between characters, keeping in mind that these characters are representing players. Since this is a game about negotiation and cooperation, the consent of both players is important and we didn’t want to force a relationship the pair of players might ultimately be uncomfortable with.
When demoing at events we see lots of couples come to play, but we also see parents and their children, platonic friends, and strangers. Having the characters enter a relationship that doesn’t mirror that of the players, and which they did not choose, can create discomfort. At the same time, we absolutely love when players want to pair and ship our characters! The design of the game is totally encouraging that.
Ultimately, we didn’t want to make a statement that the height of all relationships is romance. Close platonic friendships are just as meaningful and powerful as romantic ones!”
2019 has been an amazing year for non-binary representation across the world of TV and gaming. It’s great to see that StarCrossed will feature non-binary characters but do you think AAA developers should aim to be more inclusive in their projects?
“The obvious answer is yes, absolutely. There’s absolutely no reason to not be inclusive in our storytelling. We are designing fictional worlds of our own creation and they reflect on our values. If you’re not being inclusive in your cast/characters and worldbuilding, you’re blatantly saying you don’t care about certain people and their stories.
I believe the way we achieve this as an industry is to diversify our workforce. Offering opportunities to marginalised developers is immensely importan, but we also need to make sure they are thriving and supported once they are here. Harmful workplace practices like crunch are rampant in the games industry and are inherently ableist. Developers of colour and marginalised genders also experience burn out and leave the industry more frequently due to inflexible work spaces.
As consumers, we can encourage change by supporting the work of marginalised developers and games with inclusive content. Throw your dollars at these awesome people and projects!
What to take away:
Finally, you have a great deal of experience as an educator. Did your experiences influence StarCrossed – even though it’s a video-game, can players still expect to learn something from playing?
“I have to challenge the “even though it’s a video game” because I work in educational games as my day job! Interactivity and gameplay loops are extremely conducive to learning and I believe all games teach us something. Games exercise our brains, improve our reflexes, and provide players with a safe place to explore extreme situations!
StarCrossed is a game centred around collaboration. Players practice communicating and trusting one another. Frequently, we’ve astounded parents by getting two young siblings to play together nicely after a day of wandering an expo floor fighting over controllers and who was better at playing games. The parents look at us like, “How did you get them to stop arguing?”. Game design is so powerful! It can influence our relationships and communication styles.
We hope that StarCrossed can offer a playful space where people come together and feel good about collaborating.”
Where to play:
Grab your friends, team up and get sparkly!
If you want to help bring greater diversity to the world of videogames, and have some great fun with your friends while you’re at it, you can support StarCrossed by picking up a copy of the gameon Steam using the link below:
We can’t blame you if you missed Wolfire Games 2012 title Receiver. It was given away free of charge with a purchase of their long anticipated rabbit beat-em-up Overgrowth and after waiting almost 10 years for that game to be released, it’s understandable that a lot of players simply overlooked Receiver and left it to collect dust in their steam libraries.
Although at first only created as part of a 7-day game challenge, Receiver manages to be a fun little game that, although understandably lacking in features, is surprisingly revolutionary in what it has.
A series of randomly generated cybperpunk levels in which the player is tasked with collecting a set of tapes provides an excellent framework for the game’s superb gun simulation. In Receiver, your gun is your most important tool – but it’s also the hardest to master. Intricately modelled, each gun operates almost exactly like a real firearm. You can pull back the slides, cock the hammers and even flick the safety switch. With no on-screen UI, the only way to check something as simple as your magazine capacity being to manually remove it, and one-hit kills firefights with your robotic adversaries are short and extremely tense.
Once you’ve mastered all three available weapons and completed a couple of the levels, Reciever does begin to drag and won’t maintain your interest for more than 5 or 6 hours at most. Wolfire have done an admirable job keeping Receiver up to date, with performance fixes and the occasional minor addition to the game. As a tech demo, Receiveris excellent, but lacks far too many features to truly be considered a “fun” game.
As a result, I was ecstatic to see the Receiver 2‘s announcement appear on my feeds seemingly out of the blue. A snazzy trailer showcases vibrantly enhanced graphics rich in floods of primary coloured light and some truly beautiful cyberpunk scenes that put the original’s blocky aesthetic to shame.
Boasting eight new firearms, “including the Beretta 92FS, Colt Single-Action Army, and the iconic Desert Eagle”, and with an increased level of detail, promising to simulate every “single internal mechanism”, Receiver 2 certainly looks like it will turn out a worthy sequel.
I am certainly very excited to see what Wolfire has in store for this sequel, and how they will apply their wonderful gun simulation technology to a game for the new decade!
Releasing in early 2020, you can keep up with Receiver 2‘s progress by adding it to your wishlist here on Steamor by subscribing to the official newsletter.
In an age that seems so consumed by negativity, it’s only natural that this is in social media. Unfortunately, for many of us social media is a form of escapism – allowing us to switch off from the outside world and focus entirely on something else. Being constantly consumed by the negative energies of current affairs, especially in our supposed downtime, is unhealthy and extremely tiresome.
Kind Words (lo fi chill beats to write to) is in many ways almost the antithesis of your regular social media platform. Presented through a warm and cosy virtual room, it’s clear from the get go that Kind Words doesn’t intend to have you scrolling through reams and reams of posts for hours or chasing the highest numbers of likes on your photos.
The minimalistic art-direction bathed in rich pastel colours is highly soothing and compliments the slow and smooth beats of Kind Words’ original soundtrack perfectly.
Centred around the therapeutic writing of letters, you interact with other users through a fantasy postal service. You can send out a letter expressing your thoughts and worries to receive helpful letters from other users or reply to others concerns in an attempt to comfort them.
There is a small element of progression, with the collection of stickers. Receiving letters with stickers you do not yet own adds them to your collection, and allows you to personalise your room with associated items or add them to letters of your own to gift them to others. It’s a nice detail and lets you add your own little splash of colour to the letters you send.
Kind Words is simple, yet deeply moving and, above all else, incredibly important. Cute and reassuring, with probably the most friendly communities out there, this little gem is a perfect addition to your Steam library – and one you will love to revisit whenever you’re feeling down.
When it comes to video-gaming, the works of no one developer is quite able to compare avant-garde genius of Hidetaka Seuhiro, a Japanese developer also known by the pseudonym SWERY.
Most well known for his gloriously abstract surreal survival horror mystery Deadly Premonition which, despite perplexing reviewers to the point it even won a Guinness World Record, has gained a sizeable cult following. Despite my love of his sillier titles I find the lesser known The MISSING: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories to be his very best work yet.
A beautiful and poignant exploration into physiological trauma and struggles with personal identity The MISSING cemented my admiration for SWERY. To be able to cohesively create both the single funniest game I had ever played with Deadly Premonition and yet also The MISSING, which had me crying for hours well after the credits had rolled, demonstrates a sheer versatility that is characteristic of true genius.
I cannot name a single SWERY game that has not been excellent in its own right. As such, I was simply overjoyed when I heard the news that he had successfully crowd-funded a new title, The Good Life, in May of last year.
The Good Life is a third-person heavily stylised RPG that centres around the character of Naomi. In a state of crippling debt, it is her desire to repay this debt that forces Naomi to abandon her snug life as a journalist in New York and move to the fictional English village of Backwoods.
It quickly becomes apparent however that Backwoods, like any rural English village, houses some dark secrets. This includes a gruesome murder which the player must solve and the fact that once a month at the stroke of midnight, everyone in the village inexplicably transforms into a household pet. Yes, really. The Good Life is certainly unmistakably a SWERY game.
Boasting free roaming around a beautifully stylised and, by the looks of it, uncannily accurate village full of unique and charming characters to talk to in addition to a plethora of side activities to pass the time with The Good Life looks to will certainly provide a great deal of things to do.
The game has also benefited in-depth updates published every month since the game was funded and a stream of titbits including character concept art and details of new gameplay additions constantly flowing out of SWERY’s own Twitter posts it is a rare example of an excellently managed Kickstarter project.
Currently available for pre-order, I find The Good Life one of the most exciting and unique concepts to come out of the games industry in certainly the last decade and now, hopefully, you do too.