I have no job, so I play Papers Please

I find most jobs to be soul-crushing endeavors where you are enslaved by a soulless entity that uses menial tasks and a pittance to lull you into a semi-conscious state so it may further oppress you.

Being a struggling actor/writer, I don’t have a job where I can experience those things. Instead, I forked over about $8 – or one hour’s pay as a minimum-wage employee, pre-tax – to get Papers Please, an amazingly original and captivating indie game on Steam.

Soldiers detain one, but dozens more are waiting

You see, Papers Please finds you “winning” a lottery to work the newly-opened border checkpoint of Arstotzka. Every shift, your primary duty is to check the identification of would-be entrants and ensure only those meant to come in are admitted.

The work is easy at first, as any foreigner is to be turned away. But as days go by, new edicts need to be assimilated and new regulations are introduced seemingly to confound you. Kolechians may be barred. An X-ray machine will help you find contraband or determine gender (leaving you feeling like a TSA agent). You may even have to wield a weapon to defend the border against runners.

How my desk usually looks

The stress doesn’t end when your shift is over. If you’ve been less than perfect, penalties will dock your already-meager salary. And you’ve got 4 other mouths to feed, heat, and keep healthy. This means you may seriously consider bribes, especially when they’re combined with sympathetic causes. Or you may consider letting your dear old uncle move on to a better place.

After every person I let through, I’d wait with bated breath to see if I did the right thing. Your counter only has so much space, and it’s going to be full with regulation manuals, wanted posters, business cards, and maybe even decoders for a secret society who wants to change things (hopefully for the better). You can upgrade both your home and your workplace, but who has the disposable funds? It’s hard enough to keep everyone fed, much less spent 5 credits to shortcut inspection mode.

Everyone’s okay for now. Except dead uncle

It sounds like I’m complaining about Papers Please a lot, right? It doesn’t sound like much of a game, does it? It’s difficult to explain why I’ve been staying up late playing every night. I actually get into a zone where I’m sailing through the line – checking expiration dates, height/weight, cross-referencing with pictures of fugitives, verifying entry stamps, and everything else. I feel like I’m doing well, even if my in-game reward is merely keeping my head above water.

I don’t feel a real sense of loyalty to the nation of Arstotzka, or the guards, or the people I interact with, or the family in my slum-like dwelling. I feel a loyalty to my duty, to my job. And so, I keep doing it to the best of my ability, menial and harsh as it is.

You may pass. Don’t mess this up for us

So, what does Papers Please teach us? That we Americans actually have it pretty good? That big government is built on the backs of the little guy? That we sell our souls to save those of our loved ones? That anything can become an indifferent task through repetition – even crushing people’s dreams? Honestly, I could write several paragraphs on any of these. I suggest you play the game yourself. If you have any kind of semi-modern PC or Mac, you’ll be able to do so. Let me know what you think.

Papers Please is definitely not for everybody. Not only is there a bare minimum of shooting or violence; it’s often not even “fun” in the strictest sense of the word. That said, I can’t recommend it enough.

Not everyone wants to simply pass through

— Justin Leeper (@StillManFights)


Silent Hill 2: The Second Time

I haven’t kept up with this blog lately. I’m sure it’s the only blog on the Internet with that issue, right? It’s mostly been for good reasons: I’ve been working on a screenplay that I’m pretty excited about and I really want to hammer out the first draft ASAP. But I’m still gaming, so I wanted to speak on that a bit.

My wife and I are playing Silent Hill 2 right now. It’s a game I really didn’t like when I reviewed it. I didn’t find it scary, and a lot of it annoyed me. But recently, Games Radar awarded it the best video game story ever, so I decided to give it another shot. In fact, we chose it over Bioshock Infinite (buy here), which I picked up for $30 a month or two back.

We’re playing the Xbox port – Restless Dreams – which I bought years back at a Hollywood Video closing. Thankfully, it’s backwards-compatible with my 360. It’s also a pretty fun game. My wife hates scary movies, but can handle scary games. Having her next to me, jumping at things, actually enhances the experience. Plus, she loves maps; Silent Hill 2 has awesome maps that are updated constantly as if you’re drawing on them.

Is there a gathering of games more animal-shelter pathetic than the Xbox Marketplace’s Indie Games channel? I like to browse it every so often, and download trial versions of games that look interesting – knowing full well the rate of success is low. Even still, I’ve found some really cool stuff in there: Quiet Please, DLC Quest and Dead Pixels instantly come to mind. Add One Finger Death Punch to that list.

If it was described as Kung Fu with a stick person, you’d think it was terrible. The description isn’t wrong, but it misses all the awesome things. The game is violent, it’s fast-paced, and throws so many interesting things at you. I’m inspired to replay levels until I get gold medals. Basically, it’s Kung Fu with an “if I knew then what I know now” philosophy. And it’s a buck. So if you have an Internet-connected 360, I suggest you buy it. And look up those other games, too – as well as You Will Die, Ophidian Wars, Shoot 1-Up, Fast Fast Laser Laser… Ya know what? Maybe a list is in order. I’ll add it to my to-do.

The Steam Summer Sale was an amazing thing, per usual. The addition of virtual trading cards is just another way to get you to buy more, even though the things are quite useless. I grabbed a few games. To The Moon is an RPG I’ve been wanting forever. McPixel is best described as point-and-click adventure games meets WarioWare. I got some other stuff, but won’t mention them as I haven’t played them yet. I did sink more time into The Binding of Isaac, though. I’m lucky to get to the third dungeon before dying (though I’ve earned several trading cards).

And it’s worth noting that one day, out of all the games I own, I chose to start playing Duke Nukem Forever (buy here). As obsessive as I am, I spent about half my time trying to knock in all the billiard balls and getting a high score on the in-game pinball table – both of which have just terrible physics. But I did actually have fun seeing what Duke’s been up to. Still, it remains to be seen if I’ll go back to it.

And going back to Rock Band 3 (buy here) is what I did last night, around 2 years after I last played it. As my wife played Animal Crossing: New Leaf (buy here), I plugged in my guitar and rocked it for a while. I was surprised both how many songs I have and how quickly I got my skills back. I often play on Hard, and moving my hand along the fretboard was still intuitive.

Christmas in November!

No, my headline is not referring to Black Friday and/or Cyber Monday deals (though I will admit to breaking my game-buying ban thanks to Steam & The Walking Dead. Oh well, back on the horse). I mean I just played Sonic Generations for the first time.

What does that have to do with the Christian gift-giving event? That’s when I received the game, back in Christmas of 2011. It was one of 2 games I asked for (and received). The other was NBA 2K12, which I first played on May 23, 2012. So, it took me six months to play one of the games I got last Christmas, and almost a year to play the other. Not a very good track record. See why I started this project?

But Sonic Generations is pretty sweet so far. I only played maybe a half hour – long enough to go through the first two worlds both as new-ish and classic Sonic. I even liked the crazy 3D sections which will take up half the game. I put the voiceover on Japanese and turned on captions, just because I thought it would capture the vibe a little better.

I had the first two Sonic games back on the Genesis, and played a ton of both. Not sure if I beat either one without using the debug code, however. I ignored Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles, but did catch Sonic CD – which became my favorite game of the franchise. It holds up pretty well on iPad, too. Maybe I oughtta go back and play Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles one of these days, via the amazing Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection.

Going Indie

Indie games are really thriving in this industry. You had your Braid, your LiMBO, your Journey. They’re a stark departure from the Maddens, Call of Duties, or even Marios that dominate the sales charts. But we need that variance, that uniqueness.

If something is quirky or artistic, I tend to seek it out. I couldn’t have loved Katamari Damacy more, with its crazy ball-of-crap-rolling-over-everything gameplay and awesomely Japanese music. I played and completed all 3 indie games listed above. So it with heavy heart that I see The Unfinished Swan released on PlayStation Network this week. Its art style alone is worth the $15 or whatever they’re charging. I hear it’s short, but so is your favorite movie (unless you get down with that long-yet-unsatisfying LoTR trilogy). I really want it. But I will have to wait a year or so.

So instead, I played another indie game. The Binding of Isaac isn’t quite the artistic feat, nor does it blow you away with its unique gameplay. What it does have, however, is quirk as far as the eye can see. It plays like the dungeons in the first Legend of Zelda, but with a more Robotron shooting scheme. Instead of bullets or blades, you use the tears of a naked, freaked-out child as your weapon. You’re fighting your way out of a dungeon where you were cast by your uber-religious mother. Fucked up, right? Also, awesome. It was done by one of the Super Meat Boy guys, as a slapdash, make-a-buck proposition. He had no idea it would become such a cult hit. This is only my second time playing it, after getting it in one of the numerous indie game bundles that litter the internet.

Also, I just beat the hell out of Dungeon Village, a game that I’ve been plugging away at on my iPhone for months. It’s by Kairosoft, who made the beloved Game Dev Story. Including GDS, I’ve completed 4 Kairosoft games – including Mega Mall Story and GP Story. Dungeon Village has a bit more gameplay, as you send adventurers on quests and outfit them with armor and weapons. I ended my “15-year” cycle long ago, but ended up maxing out everyone’s level with the most advanced character class. Now I can put it away, and probably play more Fire Emblem: Sacred Stones.

Day #1 and already tempted

I picked up Dishonored, which I preordered at Best Buy on June 6. Per usual, doing any in-store pickup there is a pain in the ass. The in-store pickup line was empty, with 3 associates behind the desk. I go up there, and get sent to the 3 deep customer service line instead. Why? Who knows. So I wait. And eventually a Geek Squad person calls me over. He then is about to send me BACK to the pick-up section (now with a healthy line), when I tell him that’s where I started. He decides to see me through personally. Then they don’t have a copy held for me, so I just walk to a front-of-store display and grab one. Finally, I’m rung up and out the door in about 10 minutes — 8 more than necessary. But I have the game.

Most of you know that X-COM also released today. What most of us didn’t see coming is that it’s excellent. Watching GameTrailers’ review, it really seems like my style of game. I truly dig tactical RPGs. This has elements of both Valkyria Chronicles and Fire Emblem.

But tempting as it may be – especially when I get my $20 credit from Dishonored – I am on a mission. No buying games for a year. So what to do? Well, it just so happens that I have the entire X-COM series on Steam, thanks to its X-COM: Complete Pack, which I bought a while back for under $10. I figure it’s a good idea to play at least UFO Defense before jumping into this new version anyway, right? I hope it’s a little easier than Frozen Synapse, which whupped my butt in the hour or so I put into it.