There have been a lot of single-company bundles floating around lately–Blendo Games did one, I think, as has Telltale and Double Fine; while the recent Bundle In A Box was not, it did feature all four of Wadjet Eye’s flagship Blackwell series as well as three separate iterations of Hacker.

It’s a mixed bag. I’m not particularly fond of Telltale or Double Fine, and so it does dissuade the biggest incentive to buy a bundle, which is, why the hell not. If you’re an indie gamer, most bundles will have at least one game you already own, or one game that isn’t to your taste. Too many, and yeah, a bundle isn’t a good idea, but even getting three out of five games for five bucks is still a pretty good deal, and you can always give away a code to a friend. It would seem that, particularly for prominent indies such as Double Fine and Telltale, there’s already a pretty good chance of people owning most or all of the games, or having a particular feeling about a company or genre. And hell, while Telltale might be an extremely polarizing company–I and a lot of classic adventure gamers that I’m friends with all actively hate the company’s games–their products are consistent and their fans loyal.

The current Indie Royale is for Arcen Games, and this is a case where I love the company’s games and already own all of them. The only exceptions are the expansion packs for AI war–I own the base game but have never given it a proper try and so getting expansions would be premature. But again: Why the hell not? The bundle cost is still cheaper than getting the expansions separately, and I can always give away the codes to friends. I don’t mind tossing them a couple bucks.

The hell of it is, I’m not sure Arcen has ever made a completely successful game. I picture their games as jalopies piled with dusty Joads, and crates of chickens, and trunks with the hems of light blue dresses, the kind Dorothy Gale wears, and a cousin pickin’ on a banjo, and they’re tryin’ their darnedest to get to California and the whole package is tied up with some tough rope, and there’s a hound dog in there somewhere, and Ma’s in the driver’s seat, solid as America, and they’re ambling down the road, hoping like hell there’s a diner and a gas station somewhere in the next 50 miles, some milk for the baby and maybe even a clean sink where they can wash their faces and hands, and then it hits a bump and the whole thing explodes and goes flying everywhere, valises opening up and spilling long johns and nightgowns over the scrub, the tangled and gangly limbs of children splaying in the air, the dust clearing, Grandpa waking up with a sneeze and searching for a wrench, car parts strewn everywhere except for Ma’s chair, Ma sitting in it, her hand still clutching the gearshift which is no longer attached to anything. At first she is holding it at waist level and it looks like a scepter, but she raises it up and one is immediately struck by her resemblance to the Statue of Liberty.

Arcen games are extremely ambitious, and I think most of their games fail because of difficulties with focus. In many ways, they’re too ambitious. A Valley Without Wind is one of the most obvious examples–it’s a playset with a billion different pieces. But while their games usually fall apart, every single one of them is made with extreme gusto and enthusiasm. A Valley Without Wind is a Frankensteinian Godzilla monstrosity, but goddammit, it really does give the sense of vaguely trying to do things in an almost infinitely vast world. At first, it’s hilarious that it runs at all–but after a while, its drunken gait develops a charm and you begin to get into its rhythm. I have this feeling with all of its games.

In many ways, Arcen is one of those devs like Sid Meier or Mousechief–it’s less making “videogames” than board games that are impossible to physically build, or feature too many unwieldy calculations to be played by humans, or require too many pieces. Its newest, Skyward Collapse, is beginning to be famously described as “Chess you play with yourself”; A Valley Without Wind 2 is like taking a turn in a board game and then having a fight with your action figures; I can easily see a home game version of Shattered Haven with cardboard tokens on a slickly printed grid and some players playing zombies and some humans.

I do wonder, incidentally, if the fact that I’ve actually never played their most popular game, AI War, is coloring my opinion. Based on the number of expansions and its still devoted player base, it’s quite possible that the dev simply knocked that one out of the park and is concentrating its serious efforts into that one while making more wildly experimental games. Skyward Collapse seems to be doing well, and a couple of possible expansions seem almost self-evident–different factions, new types of buildings, campaigns, etc.

There’s a sense of draft–updates to Skyward Collapse came almost daily for about a week after its release, and while obviously there were some bugfixes, a lot of it was balance tweaks suggested by the fan community. (In one case a change was made, found to be wildly unpopular, and changed back the next day.) I like that. Changing games based on fan feedback is kind of a controversial subject after Mass Effect 3. But in that case, the issue was with Bioware’s artistic intent with the original ending. Arcen is very obviously looking to entertain. People play games like AI War for years–it’s clear they’re releasing updates and expansions to it because they want to keep people enjoying it. I find that level of dedication endearing. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff on their blog, and I really like it. Usually their explanations hit the proper balance between giving a lot of information and realizing they’re speaking to an audience of non-programmers.

So the upshot is one ought to buy the bundle. Why the hell not, right?


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