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.
We all love a good bargain, but recent controversies surrounding the negative impacts of third-party key reselling sites like G2A have prompted us to take another look at our collective buying habits. Luckily, we’ve assembled this handy little guide to try and help you buy a little better – but still find a good deal.
What’s the big deal?
The issues surrounding key re-sellers first came to the gaming community’s attention in July of last year, when many independent game developers took to Twitter and implored players to “pirate our games rather than buy from G2A”.
Please, if you’re going to buy a game from G2A, just pirate it instead! Genuinely!
Devs don’t see a penny either way, so we’d much rather G2A didn’t see money either
It’s a bold statement, but what exactly do devs find so deeply offensive about key sites like G2A that they would rather you simply steal the products of their hard work? Firstly, when you buy a game from a key reselling site you’re usually buying from another user rather than a publisher or developer. For smaller teams who may be struggling with large overheads or the development costs associated with maintaining a game, this can deprive them of the income they depend on to survive.
Secondly, buying from these sites can often actively cost developers money. Although in an ideal world, there would be nothing wrong with someone selling on a few keys they bought by accident, this is very rarely the case. Often, the shockingly cheap prices you see on sites like G2A are the result of credit card fraud, where criminals have bulk bought keys with stolen credit cards. When the fraudulent transaction is inevitably detected and reversed, it sometimes falls upon the developer to cover the fees. In this situation, everybody loses out. The developer loses money and you are likely to lose your game (even if it has already been redeemed) if the key is deactivated.
With this in mind, it seems common sense to want to try and source your cheap games in a manner which doesn’t harm anyone. You can do this by following any of the steps below.
Buy from the developer directly:
Although it isn’t a very well-known fact, many developers operate their own online stores. These often sell both physical and Steam copies of games. Above you can see an example screenshot form IO Interactive‘s online store which allows you to purchase any of their titles as Steam keys directly from them. Unlike buying from the Steam storefront, buying directly means that developers receive a considerable amount more money, as it does not include the 25-30% cut taken by Steam.
Developer’s own stores are also likely to hold their own promotions, independent of Steam sale times. It only takes a couple of seconds to track down a dev’s online store and it helps you give more to the companies you want to support – whilst potentially saving you a pretty penny in the process.
Use isthereanydeal to find bargains on approved sites:
Alternatively, isthereanydeal.com is an invaluable resource for any bargain hunters. It allows you to search directly for the titles you want and compares a variety of approved sites which it ensures source their keys directly from developers. It also alerts you to the presence of the games available in bundles on incredible sites like Fanatical or Humble Bundle, the latter of which even helps those in need by donating a portion of what you pay to charity.
Scour the web for coupon codes – or just use Honey instead:
Honey is a free browser extension which automatically compares and applies coupon codes on sites where they are available. This is a great tool when used in conjunction with isthereanydeal, and helps you knock a few pennies (and even sometimes a few pounds) off the price of your purchase.
Alternatively, there are numerous websites and forums available online which allow users to exchange and share active coupon codes which you can input manually at the checkout.
If all else fails, wishlist your games on Steam to be informed of sales:
If you follow all of these steps and still can’t find a good deal on your games, you can always make use of the Steam wishlist feature. By clicking the “Add to your wishlist button” on the game’s Steam store page, you will be automatically informed whenever the game goes on sale.
Steamprices.com is a handy site which allows you to look at the Steam price history of any game, so you can get a rough idea of how much it is likely to cost you in a sale. Even though it may cost you a little more, buying ethically is important. Next time you see the game you want for £40 below retail price on sites like G2A, try to stop and think about whether you want to harm and industry you love.
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 Need to Go Deeper, a procedurally generated undersea adventure, promises to test even the strongest friendships with its chaotic four player co-op. With an intriguing premise and undeniably eye-catching visuals, does We Need To Go Deeper pack enough punch in the gameplay department to keep itself from going belly-up?
Inspired by the world of Jules Verne’s Voyages extraordinairesWe Need to Go Deeper‘s setting, ‘The Living Infinite’, is an unexplored abyss at the heart of the Atlantic Ocean full of tantalising treasures and terrifying creatures.
An intrepid undersea explorer, the player is tasked with diving into these endless depths to seek out fame and fortune. Of course, this impossible task could never be accomplished alone and as such you are offered the option to bring three budding crewmates along for the ride. If you, for whatever reason, are unable to convince your friends to accompany you to certain doom, you can either try (and fail) tp do it solo or (more realistically) bring along three bots for the ride. The solid character creator helps you customise your sailor to your liking, with more clothing options available for unlock as you play.
The majority of this gameplay takes place in your submarine, which players have to work together to pilot. The cramped interior of your vessel houses panels which control the various aspects of the ship. There’s a big captain’s wheel which lets you steer, a torpedo bay and gunner’s seat – careful management of which is essential for utilising your ship’s cannons – and a whole room dedicated to controlling the allocation of your ship’s precious power.
It’s a great system, which requires a surprising amount of skill to master. It’s also quite a lot of fun not to be anything but the master. Desperately scurrying around your ship screaming at your crewmates to turn off the lights so you can power up your engines for a mad escape from an impending octopus is an awful lot of fun.
Dark corners of the sea:
Giant octopi are not your only undersea adversaries of course. With a roster of abominations a little more Lovecraft than Verne, I and my terrified crew had to battle singing sirens, multiple-mouthed monstrosities and even, at one point, a towering cyborg!
Every so often you are given the option to leave your ship and explore various dungeons in the form of ancient ruins. These take the form of brief side-scrolling sequences usually packed with an abundance of enemies and a veritable treasure trove of coins. You can spend these coins in shops located in explorable civilisations. These civilisations also offer the opportunity to recruit unique companions and even pets to accompany you on your journey.
The type of civilisation, which ranges from mer-people inhabiting sunken pantheons to ancient Egyptians living in an ancient undersea dome, is dependent on the biome. There are currently ten biomes in We Need To Go Deeper, each with its own distinct environments, enemies and lore. Seeing the charming hand-drawn style take on a variety of looks as your progress is very refreshing and the new enemy types that come with each biome have you always anticipating what you might encounter next.
A sinking ship:
Unfortunately, the superb in game visuals don’t extend to the game’s title screen, which I found unnecessarily clunky with multiple menus that often overlap. The screen transition between pressing the play button and the start of the game is uncomfortably laggy, for seemingly no reason, and the in-game graphics options can be described as sparse at best.
On the flip side, it’s clear that the development team spent all the time they could have spent polishing the menus perfecting the far more important gameplay but it’s a nevertheless a little disappointing that my first impression of a game did not at all reflect its overall high quality.
Luckily, this is a relatively simple issue to fix. With the gameplay perfected and the admirable frequency of high-quality content updates the game has been receiving in the months since its release, I am sure a sparkly new menu will be in the works some point down the line and this minor nag will no longer be an issue.
On that note, this is definitely a game you find yourself revisiting – a lot. There are very few recent co-op games of this quality around anymore, and the inclusion of a level-based progression system was an excellent choice, with enticing unlocks to keep you thirsting for more. The procedural nature of the game’s map and the capacity for random events also helps make repeating the early biomes after an unlucky death a little less frustrating than some other games in the genre.
We Need To Go Deeper is overall represents a very strong point in the roguelike genre. Its highly unique visual style is a great way of drawing you in to what is a finely tuned and deceptively deep co-op adventure that will have you and your friends coming back to for a reliably great experience time and time again.
If you fancy a go at undersea exploration yourself, feel free to check out We Need To Go Deeper on Steam using the link below!
Just so you’re aware! To aid this review a copy of We Need to Go Deeper was provided free of charge by Deli interactive.
Donut County is a unique indie puzzler, featuring an adorable racoon intent on stealing trash and a town full of animal residents just waiting to be stolen from. Released over a year ago, does this award-winning indie adventure still hold up, or does age expose some previously unseen holes?
A hole lot of fun:
The player is dropped intoin the life of BK, a young racoon who has recently landed a new job at a start-up company that collects trash by the careful manoeuvring of portable remote control holes. Each level begins with the player clicking somewhere to summon a hole which, although initially tiny, gradually grows and grows in size with the more objects (and even unlucky Hole County residents!) that end up sucked into it.
Larger holes reward your progress by allowing you to swallow even larger objects which in turn help to increase the size of your hole, creating a supremely satisfying gameplay loop. This satisfaction is further amplified by the fact that your hole-size is reset in-between each of the self-contained sandbox levels. Working your way up from a tiny rabbit-hole that struggles to suck up even a few blades of grass to a colossal sink-hole that effortlessly absorbs entire skyscrapers just doesn’t get old no matter how many times it is repeated.
As the game progresses, you gradually unlock new abilities for your hole – such as a catapult which allows the player to hurl certain objects back into the air. These are used to facilitate the majority of the puzzles found throughout the game. Whilst these puzzles are not particularly difficult, even I who considers myself extremely puzzle-inept never had to resort to an online guide, they are spread-out enough and provide just the right level of mental stimulation to keep what would otherwise be a fairly simplistic game engaging throughout.
Heart and design:
A soothing yet upbeat soundtrack compliments Donut County‘s pleasing pastel aesthetic which is just soft enough to evoke feelings of calm and warmth yet still vibrant and quirky. It’s a perfect fit, and one that makes playing a highly relaxing experience. Although minimalist in design, levels each have their own unique and memorable look – usually matching the personality or appearance of their associated characters. Moving from a rural countryside farm to the likes of a desert to a city street helps provide a much needed pallet swap every now and then.
This colourful coat of paint makes Donut County perfect for younger gamers. It’s not too difficult, and they would certainly enjoy the charming design and appreciate the pleasing tactility of the physics engine.
This colourful coat of paint makes Donut County perfect for younger gamers. It’s not too difficult, and they would certainly enjoy the charming design and appreciate the pleasing tactility of the physics engine.
Not without its holes:
I found these cut scenes often overstayed their welcome – an issue amplified by the lack of voice acting. Reading dialogue boxes accompanied by randomised babble, à la Animal Crossing, simply isn’t engaging enough to carry a game that tries to focus so heavily on story. Sometimes the humour was a little jarring too. In comedy it’s natural that for every laugh, there are a couple of jokes that fall flat. In most circumstances is not an issue but when the vast majority of dialogue is comprised of jokes, it starts to feel like every other line is yet another wearisome punchline.
There are also long “texting” scenes in which you sit and watch your character receive SMS messages, stirring occasionally to either send a duck emoji (which does nothing) or clicking a single on-screen prompt to reply. Without the colourful aesthetic of the over world or the animated bouncing of characters to keep your mind occupied, these scenes are quite frankly monotonous. They also seem like a bit of a missed opportunity. Implementing an option to choose which reply you send would be a great way to add a small element of replayability to the game.
This lack of replayability is probably the biggest issue with Donut County. Clocking in at slightly over two hours, this short length is simply not enough content for the over £10 PC price-tag and the total lack of replayability and reliance on a linear story makes this a title harder to recommend than it otherwise would be.
The hole picture:
Despite its flaws, Donut County is nevertheless a charming and memorable adventure. In spite of the fact it may struggle a little to wholly justify its hefty price-tag at its rustiest points, frequent half-price sales since launch make this title just a little too tempting to pass up, even for those who don’t feel wholly convinced. As a little bonus, the low seasonal sale prices make Donut County a great option as a Christmas gift for your Steam friends.
Speaking of sales, as if by magic, Donut County is on a half-price discount for a few days! You can check it out by clicking on the link below.