Monthly Game Clubs

One of the things that has helped keep me sane the last couple of years of being mostly isolated because of the pandemic has been through playing games and talking to people online, and the way I’ve been doing that has been through monthly game clubs. I thought I would talk about why you should check one out or maybe even start your own!

What is a monthly game club?

A monthly game club is a group that selects a game to play every month and discusses the game as they play it. Usually these groups have some sort of theme like a console platform or game genre but not always. The clubs can take any form but I’ve mostly seen them on Discord since it’s so easy to start one up there. They also sometimes have a podcast to discuss that month’s game but many do not.

Why should I join one?

It’s a great way to play older games. It feels like on social media people generally stop talking about a game once it’s a couple of months old, especially if it isn’t a gigantic hit. Monthly game clubs allow people to try out games and have a community that they can discuss the game with. I really like this because I usually don’t get around to playing a game until much later, when most people have moved on. I’ve also found it’s just a nice way to meet people around the world and be social now that I’m a bit more isolated because of the pandemic.

Here’s some of the clubs I follow along with. If you’re looking for more, I also made a list of some that have a Twitter account here. This is also missing all the ones that don’t have a Twitter account, like the monthly playthroughs on the AdventureGamers.com forums and the one I run for the monthly games zine Indiepocalypse (message me if you want an invite). But hopefully this will help you get an idea of what they’re like.

DOS Game Club
DOS Game Club is a monthly group focused entirely on playing games on DOS that has been around for over five years. They play games from every genre and cover games both popular and obscure. One thing I really enjoy about this club is that the club discusses games on a forum and IRC channel. It’s fun to use something that reminds me of earlier days on the internet and club hosts have complete control over instead of a company like Discord. You can read about the club and find their forums and IRC here.

The Safe Room
The Safe Room is a newer group focused on horror games. It started earlier this year and has already played some classics like Silent Hill. You can listen to their podcast and join their Discord here

Cartridge Club
Cartridge Club is a group that has been around for over nine years. They play through a wide variety of games, both on consoles and PC, old and new. Their Twitter and Discord are here.

Adventure Game Club
Adventure Game Club is a monthly adventure game playthrough group that I started near the beginning of the pandemic as an excuse to get through my adventure game backlog. The adventure game genre has always been vaguely defined but generally we have a pretty loose definition and include interactive fiction related games like Citizen Sleeper and have had months for things like IFComp. It’s been nice having a place where people can discuss the games as they play them with other people who haven’t played them before and ask for hints on puzzles when needed. We also started a podcast earlier this year as an excuse to talk more after a few years of only talking through text. The Twitter page has links to the Discord and podcast

Start your own club!

If it feels like these clubs don’t quite fit what you’re looking for, consider starting your own! It doesn’t have to be anything big or have some sort of project attached to it like a podcast. It can just be you and a couple of friends talking about a different video game or tabletop rpg every month as you play them. I’ve found that they make games a more social and enjoyable experience for me and hope you consider checking one out.

Indie Game Anthologies

Something I’ve really enjoyed seeing over the last few years has been more game anthologies consisting entirely of games by indie developers. I thought I would write about why I enjoy them so much and list some of my favorites. Consider checking them out or even supporting indie developers by starting your own!

Why are game anthologies cool?

  • They are a fantastic way to discover new games. Every anthology listed here has helped me discover new game developers I wasn’t aware of before.
  • Paid anthologies help game developers make money. Making money as a game developer is a very hard task, especially if you create experimental games that people might hesitate to spend their money on. An anthology helps reduce that risk of their purchase being a dud since if they don’t enjoy one game, there’s plenty of other ones they might be into.
  • They help preserve games! Many of the games in these collections would be forgotten or lost in 10 years without the help of these collections providing another place where these games can exist.

I think I also love game collections and anthologies because they remind me of when I would browse through shareware collections and magazine demo discs in the 90s and try out all sorts of games. If one game wasn’t enjoyable to me then I would just move on to the next one.

Super Rare Games Mixtape

The Super Rare Games Mixtapes are a series of physical game compilations featuring 30 games each and demos on a USB tape cassette with a manual all in a cool little box. The compilations pay the developers to include their games so it was fun seeing the late 90’s freeware game Dink Smallwood in one of the releases. They have a limited print run so some of the early ones are sold out but you can get them here

Indiepocalypse

Indiepocalypse is a monthly anthology of tabletop and video games. Each issue contains ten games as well as a zine. One of my favorite things about Indiepocalypse is how in addition to paying developers to include their games, it also pays royalties to those devs from sales. I also really like how so many of the games are experimental and by developers that don’t have big followings. It even commissions a new game each issue so it’s helping new games get created as well. Indiepocalypse has had a giant influence on me and all my weird little indie game dev projects. I really wish it got more coverage in various outlets. I would strongly encourage you to pick up an issue and check out all the games.

Mangotronics Employment Collection

This is a collection of short games about employment that was organized by the publisher Mangotronics. The collection features nine games, I believe most of them exist elsewhere, but a couple of new games as well. I just really loved how this was a collection that was about a very specific theme. It is available on both Itch.io and Steam.

Hand Eye Society Mixtape

The Hand Eye Society Mixtape is a collection of games by The Hand Eye Society, a Toronto not-for-profit dedicated to supporting and showcasing video games. The purpose of the mixtapes is to showcase the diversity of indie games. The mixtape pays each developer to include their game in the collection and the bundle itself is available for free, but I highly encourage you to pay for it to help fund future bundles if you can afford to. There are currently two mixtapes available here.

HauntedPS1 Demo Disc

HauntedPS1 is a community that started a few years ago that was focused entirely around creating games inspired by horror games that were on the Playstation 1. Over time some of the developers from the community have started experimenting with different aesthetics or genres but the big projects that come from there are still focused on horror games. One of my favorite things they do is the HauntedPS1 Demo Disc. This is a collection inspired by 90s magazine demo discs containing demos of games by folks in the community. The presentation of the demo discs is fantastic as well. The first one is like the magazine demo discs that inspired it, but later ones have a 3D environment for you to explore. Best of all, they’re free!

Locally Sourced

I suppose I can plug my own collection. The first issue of the Locally Sourced zine is a collection of writing and games by people in the state of Michigan in the United States. I basically just copied what Indiepocalypse was doing and made a very local version of it. I had a fantastic time putting it together though and I’m very slowly working on another. If you would like to help more get made, consider picking up a digital or physical copy.

Cartomancy Anthology

Finally, I’d like to give a shout out to the Cartomancy Anthology. It’s a little different than the rest of the collections I’ve talked about here because it’s all new games exclusive to this collection. The collection has a tarot deck theme, with each game being based on a card in the deck. I really enjoyed the presentation and it was nice to see so many game developers I’m a fan of, such as Lowpolis, have a game in the collection. Cartomancy Anthology is available on both Itch.io and Steam.

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More Adventure Games for Halloween

A few days ago, I wrote a post listing some adventure games that I would recommend for the Halloween season. I thought I would do another one since there’s so many games I wanted to recommend. 

Before I do that, I should probably mention The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow, which comes out today. I haven’t played it yet but it’s probably a game that will be good since it’s developed by Cloak and Dagger Games, a studio I recommend later in this article, and published by Wadjet Eye Games, who are responsible for a lot of wonderful games as well like Unavowed and The Shivah.

The Corruption Within

The Corruption Within is a first-person psychological horror game set in the Victorian era. The game was developed by Cosmic Void and Dave Seaman, who both made adventure games on their own that I enjoyed. Cosmic Void created the Space Quest-inspired series Tachyon Dreams and Dave Seaman created the comedy series Captain Disaster under the developer name CaptainD. I was really charmed by the atmosphere in this game, the interesting cast of characters, and pixel art. The puzzles were challenging but never felt unfair or held me up too long, and the game only took me about 90 minutes to complete so it never wore out its welcome.

Both developers have new games coming out very soon. Cosmic Void is creating a sci-fi adventure game called Blood Nova and CaptainD has the retro-looking puzzle game Snow Problem.

Dark Fall

Dark Fall is a first-person adventure game created by Jonathan Boakes in 2002, which I guess makes this both an indie and a retro game. You play someone who has received a message from his frightened brother asking for help at an abandoned train station. The game involves you investigating the ghosts that inhabit the station and felt authentic to me, someone who doesn’t know a single thing about ghost hunting. I have a soft spot for it since it came out during a time when there weren’t many commercial adventure games being released and very few of them were worth playing. That said, I think the game holds up outside of that context. The game manages to be very creepy without resorting to jump scares and I thought the various storylines of the people you read about in the station were interesting. 

I think I would maybe have a hard time recommending it to someone who doesn’t enjoy puzzles, but if you do or at least don’t mind having a hint guide open, then I think it’s a game worth checking out if you have an interest in ghost stories. Jonathan has continued making games in the Dark Fall series so if the game sounds interesting but you want a more modern game, consider checking out one of the later games in the series since they’re standalone outside of some references and two games sharing the same location.

Don’t Escape: 4 Days to Survive

Don’t Escape: 4 Days to Survive showed me how much an adventure game could innovate on genre mechanics that I used to think should have been left in the 80s. It is a post-apocalyptic survival adventure where you must carefully manage your time if you want to survive. In many ways, this game reminded me of early Sierra adventure games which I felt had dated mechanics. It’s easy to die and you can softlock yourself if you aren’t careful. But with the way the game is broken down into four chapters and relies on replaying them to maximize your time use, these mechanics felt very fresh to me and I didn’t find it frustrating in the ways that I often do with early adventure games. If you bought the Bundle for Ukraine that was on Itch earlier this year, you already own the game.

Football Game

When people describe something being Lynchian, it usually means that it’s set in a small town and there’s some quirky characters. Football Game is certainly a game inspired by him but its inspiration is more than just borrowing the aesthetics of his work, and tonally feels closer to later Lynch works like Twin Peaks: The Return. There is a feeling of uneasiness that carries through the entire game, assisted by the fantastic soundtrack by JUPITER-C. The game is only an hour long and I’d recommend it to any Lynch fan.

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The Lost World of HeroMUD

This article was originally published in the Michigan indie game zine Locally Sourced. If you enjoyed reading this, consider supporting further Michigan game history research by picking up a digital or physical version of the zine.

In the early days of online video games, before games like World of Warcraft and Overwatch, there existed the MUD. Short for Multi-User Dungeon, these games combined elements of text adventure games like Zork with tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons to create a virtual world that would allow players to connect to a server through their local network or phone line and explore a world together with other players. Players would type their actions into the computer and get a response back from the server describing what happened in text. While the genre still exists today, they were mainly played from the late 70s to early 90s. Most of the servers from that time have been shut down, but the one that interests me the most is a game called HeroMUD.

HeroMUD was a MUD set in the fictional city “Metadelphia” based on Ann Arbor, Michigan[1]. The game ran on servers at the University of Michigan at the art and engineering schools. Since the MUD was not approved by the university, it would occasionally get shut down and would be offline until it could find another server to run on.

When players signed onto HeroMUD for the first time, this is what they would see[2]:

The Diag
You are standing on the Diag of Metadelphia Universitat.
A holographic clock pulses in the air above you.
A small sign reads: Orientation -- ‘press button’ for guided tour.

Obvious exits: northwest, northeast, southwest, southeast, south, west

Crity the utter frosh is standing here.

After being presented with this text, players were given the freedom to type in different commands to interact with the environment. They could examine different objects in the room, press the button for the guided tour, and talk to characters like Crity. The beginning areas were laid out just like the University of Michigan campus and heading in different directions from here would take players to parts of Metadelphia that resembled the campus.

The game itself seemed to have influences from everything that was popular in pop culture at the time. Character classes had powers inspired by Spider-Man, Wolverine, The Incredible Hulk, Green Lantern, and Jedi from Star Wars. Events in the game were also influenced by pop culture; players could walk into a movie theater playing Die Hard and join John McClane and Hans Gruber in the Nakatomi Building[3]. There was a section of the game modeled after Toontown from the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, that supported actions like sticking your thumb out to have Benny the Cab pick you up. The game even had Darth Vader as one of its toughest enemies.

The game was filled with interesting mechanics not seen in other games. In most online games, a sudden disconnection leaves the player’s character standing in place for a few minutes before being removed from the game. Suddenly disconnecting from HeroMUD without logging out would turn the player into a marble statue for others to see until they reconnected[4].

Like other MUDs, HeroMUD had players complete quests for experience points to level up. A few quests in the game relied on humor. One involved having to get refused service at a convenience store by having to get No Shirt and No Shoes objects from NPCs in town, before getting the No Service quest object from the convenience store[5].

HeroMUD had its own form of moderators. Police Officers were a player type who enforced the rules of HeroMUD. If a player was given the Police Officer role, they were given access to the Police Station where they were given a locker containing equipment such as armor and weapons that were of higher quality than the gear players normally had. The Police Station also had a box of donuts that players could eat to regain hit points.

The mechanic for death in HeroMUD was unique as well. Upon dying, players would float around and observe the world, unable to interact with anything, until the timer ended and the player was resurrected. Many online games work like this and it’s nothing unique, however there was a faster way that players could be reborn. HeroMUD featured a player role known as Death that was the highest level that players could achieve as a regular character. As Death, the goal was to retrieve as many souls floating around so they could advance to the next level of power that was more advanced than death. Players with the Death role would sit in a waiting room known as “Death’s Waiting Room” where they would wait to be alerted by their scythe that a player had died and their soul was waiting to be retrieved. This often resulted in a
scramble by all the Death players to be the first to retrieve the soul. Once the soul was collected, the player character would be resurrected and could interact with the world again. The MUD started sometime during 80s and ran until 1991, when it appears to have been shut down for good. When the game was shut down, they slowly flooded rooms until there were only a few left.[6] This is the message people would see when they tried to telnet to the MUD:

Sorry, Further access from Michnet to HERO MUD will not be allowed. This situation will not change. Please do not bother Michnet with questions about HERO MUD. HERO MUD is not a public service. Connection closed by foreign host.

There was an attempt a year later to create a HeroMUD 2 but it was never completed[7]. While HeroMUD seems to be lost forever, the game has had a lasting impact on its players. Even today, people exchange stories on Twitter and elsewhere of a game they played thirty years ago. More info about the game is discovered every few months and who knows, maybe the source code to the game will be discovered somewhere.

  1. https://localwiki.org/ann-arbor/HeroMUD
  2. The Internet for Everyone. Richard W. Wiggins. 1994.
  3. https://twitter.com/timburks/status/1410454899708424196
  4. https://twitter.com/jeremymika/status/1432689215792320513
  5. https://icaruslaughing.livejournal.com/356627.html
  6. https://twitter.com/jeremymika/status/1432690652647542790
  7. https://groups.google.com/g/rec.games.mud.lp/c/DCg944vVJlo/m/65HMY9ejWCAJ

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Halloween Adventure Game Recommendations

Since it’s now the Halloween season, I thought I would do a tiny write-up on four indie point-and-click adventure games I would recommend for this time of year. I’m missing a ton of great games so I’ll try to do another one soon.

Stasis

Stasis is an isometric horror adventure by The Brotherhood released in 2015. You play as someone who wakes up from stasis on an abandoned spacecraft and need to figure out what happened to everyone. This is the only game on the list that features death scenes which I know not everyone is into, but they are kind of fun to watch since they are very over the top and the game encourages you to find them as well since they award achievements as well. I’ve seen a few people compare it to the classic game Sanitarium since they’re both isometric horror games and while they’re different kinds of horror, I do think fans of that game would enjoy this as well. HowLongToBeat lists the game at around 8 hours long which sounds right to me.

The developers of the game went on to develop Cayne, a free standalone horror game set in the same universe so if you are unsure about picking up Stasis or just don’t have the budget for it right now, consider checking that out. More recently they released a post-apocalyptic adventure game called Beautiful Desolation and are working on another Stasis game right now.

Stasis is available on Windows and Mac
https://store.steampowered.com/app/380150/STASIS/

Darkside Detective

If you’re looking for something a bit lighter, I would recommend The Darkside Detective. It’s a comedy adventure game released by Spooky Doorway in 2017. You play as Detective McQueen and investigate nine paranormal cases. The game isn’t very difficult and each case is short, making it a good game if you want something more relaxing at this time of year. 

A sequel was released last year that follows the same format of a bunch of small cases, so if you enjoy the first game then the sequel is worth playing.

Darkside Detective is available on Windows, Mac, Linux, Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S
https://store.steampowered.com/app/368390/The_Darkside_Detective/

Midnight Scenes

Technically this recommendation is a series of games, but Midnight Scenes is an anthology series by Octavi Navarro, who also worked on Thimbleweed Park. There are currently three games in the series, with each one being completely standalone. The games feature gorgeous pixel art and are only 15-20 minutes each, perfect if you’re looking for something that can be played in one sitting. Octavi also developed a few other short horror games outside of this series that I would recommend, The Supper and The Librarian. If you picked up the Bundle for Ukraine that was on Itch earlier this year, you already own the entire Midnight Scenes series.

Their games are available on Steam and Itch
https://octavinavarro.itch.io/

If On a Winter’s Night, Four Travelers

If On a Winter’s Night, Four Travelers is an isometric adventure game with horror elements about four people on board a train during a masked ball, with flashbacks that focus on each individual character. Even if it wasn’t a free game I would be impressed by the art and amount of care that went into the writing. Since the game does handle some sensitive topics, please read the content warnings at the bottom of the page to make sure it’s something you can play. 

The game is available for free on Steam and Itch, but I would encourage you to pick up the Supporter Pack to support the developers and get some cool stuff like the soundtrack and art book.
https://store.steampowered.com/app/1603980/If_On_A_Winters_Night_Four_Travelers/

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