Thimbleweed Park, PC

Thimbleweed Park is a point-and-click adventure, released in 2017 by Terrible Toybox, and co-created by ex-LucasArts employees Gary Winnick and Ron Gilbert.

In case you didn’t know: both Gilbert and Winnick have been involved in the making of some of the best games of all time, including (but not limited to) titles such as: Ballblazer, Maniac Mansion, The Secret of Monkey Island, and Day of the Tentacle.

And in 2014 they launched a Kickstarter to fund development of their “dream game”. Well, their tribute to point-and-click adventures of the past, but using modern technology. As a backer I followed the game’s development with interest. A top team of artists, musicians, voice actors, and technicians were assembled, and the game was completed pretty much as planned, taking three years to develop.

Thimbleweed Park is a mystery adventure set in 1987, with five playable characters and a whole load of puzzles to crack. Fear not, though. If you’re weak on puzzles you can play the game in Casual mode just to enjoy the story and pixel artistry. Real gamers will play it in Hard mode, though, to experience everything it has to offer.

First and foremost Thimbleweed Park looks amazing. The graphics really are a work of pixel artistry and they are further enhanced with great animation, silky smooth scrolling, visual effects, and even real-time lighting. Everything about Thimbleweed Park is just so slick; the useful right-click functionality; the way icons jiggle to get your attention; the screen tilting; the alternative fonts; the voice acting; the language support. If I had any niggles it would be that there’s no manual scroll (I wanted one), and… that’s about it.

Story-wise, Thimbleweed Park is hilarious too. It’s basically an X-Files-type scenario, with lots of satirical horror film and video game references. And jokes. The game starts off seemingly innocuously (although smart players will realise that they’re controlling a doomed man), then becomes a murder mystery, before turning into a curse story, and then cutting back to the murder mystery. All the playable characters have their own plotlines going on, and the game cuts between them as flashbacks as the story unfolds.

The playable characters vary quite a bit and all have their own unique charm. The lead – a female FBI officer called Ray – is laconic and easily annoyed; her male partner, Reyes, is an eager rookie. Then there’s a clown, called Ransome, who is infamous for his *beeping* insults. A computer programmer called Delores, and her rather, Franklin, make up the remaining playable characters.

I can’t recommend Thimbleweed Park highly enough. It is a fantastic love letter to point-and-click adventure games of the past and is genuinely funny, absorbing, and challenging. It’s worth playing to see the beautiful art alone, although the writing, music, puzzles, and usability are all significant contributors to the fact that this is a future classic in the making. Which is quite ironic.

Thimbleweed Park is also available on current gen systems, such as PlayStation 4, XBox One, and Nintendo Switch. Plus Mac, Linux and Android.

More: Thimbleweed Park on Wikipedia
Steam: Thimbleweed Park on Steam
GOG.com: Thimbleweed Park on GOG.com

Offendron Warrior, PC

Offendron Warrior is a superb retro gaming tribute to Eugene Jarvis‘s arcade classic Defender, using modern pixels and effects, by talented and prolific Korean Hijong Park. It’s currently available for free or donationware on Steam.

If you don’t know Defender – look it up, then go play it. Then come back and continue reading this.

Now… Imagine Defender, but with a few modern twists applied. Such as: homing missiles! And a transforming ship (Interceptor mode flies faster and Offender mode has rapid fire rate).

The basic premise of Offendron Warrior is the same as Defender: protect the vulnerable civilians from waves of alien Infectors, which will try to carry them away from the ground. You can shoot an Infector and it will drop the civilian, but if the civilian falls too far it will die. So you can (and should) catch them. You can catch a bunch of them and chain them up, which is neat. If you lose all your civilians it’s game over.

Holding down the transform button turns you into a mini mech, which shoots rapid, multi-coloured lasers out the front. Firing while moving up and down in mech mode creates a spread of fire, which is a good tactic for dealing with small groups of enemies. For everything else there are homing missiles. Homing missiles will take out every enemy on-screen, but are limited so must be used sparingly. The visual effect of a large group of enemies being wiped-out by homing missiles is quite amazing and really has to be seen to be believed. They are very satisfying to use!

Offendron Warrior is a simple but brilliant blaster. It’s a great tribute to Defender and a very playable and compulsive game in its own right. And – like all Hijong Park‘s games – it really is a tough challenge. It’s great fun, though. So don’t miss it!

More: PsychoFlux Entertainment on Steam
Steam: Offendron Warrior on Steam

Steel Alcimus, PC

Another excellent Hijong Park retro tribute game – this one possibly his best so far – Steel Alcimus is an overhead helicopter shooter with either twin-stick joypad, or keyboard and mouse controls. I played it with mouse and keys and found the control system to be really quite ingenious.

This game is a bit more complex than Park‘s other games, Rolling Bird or Frantic Dimension, so requires a number of tutorial missions be flown before you can start a campaign. Which is fine because the tutorial is well designed, fun to play, and much easier than the missions themselves!

When you finally get to some actual missions you really then start to see how good Steel Alcimus is. It’s a game that’s been made with real love and care, kept simple and playable, and polished like a game with a Nintendo Seal of Approval. Which it doesn’t have of course. But maybe should have. 🙂

Steel Alcimus – like Hijong Park‘s other games – is very interesting to play, but devilishly difficult to master. And – like his other games – it has a distinct graphical style. And it feels great to fly the helicopter around and blow stuff up. Steel Alcumus reminds me of a few good old games: Raid On Bungeling Bay, Cyclone, and Carrier Command, to name but three.

Steel Alcimus is on Steam now. There’s a free version, and also a very low-cost donationware version. If you like helicopter action games you should give it a try, and if you enjoy it you should consider buying the donation version. I did, because I like what Park‘s doing – he’s making fun games that are worth playing (he’s actually making the type of games I’d make myself if I could code). And I support that wholeheartedly.

More: PsychoFlux Entertainment on Steam
Steam: Steel Alcimus on Steam

Frantic Dimension, PC

Frantic Dimension is another great, free game, made by talented Korean Hijong Park and released on Steam in 2018.

The opening animatic in Frantic Dimension is quite funny – made even funnier by the slightly off-kilter use of English (it’s not a criticism – I like it). 🙂

Apparently you are the mighty Jason Allen and you’ve been kidnapped by alien Yadicans and must escape from their deathtrap fortress. And along the way steal a few of their treasured artefacts…

Frantic Dimension is a beautifully-presented, fast and furious ‘twin stick’ shooter (meaning: you use one joystick to move, and a second joystick to shoot in all directions), and is a wonderful love letter to classic arcade games such as BerzerkRobotron 2084, Smash TV, and Total Carnage. And it’s also seriously hardcore stuff.

The idea is to explore the maze, and each floor (as much as you dare), looking for treasure. You’re constantly under attack by killer robots and must keep them at bay with your lasers. Once you’ve gathered enough treasure you can then start to think about finding the exit to the next level. The lower you go the more difficult it gets. And, by crikey, Frantic Dimension is not what you would call easy.

Most rooms are quite busy and the enemies very aggressive, so surviving is tricky. Shooting the various baddies is very satisfying, though, as they often explode in a pleasing manner. You’re given three smartbombs at the start of the game and using these makes the enemies explode like Roman candles. The onscreen carnage can at times be quite intense. Thankfully there’s a grid map in the top left of the screen, showing your position in relation to the exit.

Hang around for too long on one screen and an Evil Face will appear and start chasing you – a nice tribute to Evil Otto in Berzerk. Corner Zappers are a pain in the butt too. They sit in corners, firing diagonal lasers at you whenever you come within range. They are quite deadly and really get the heart pumping when you trigger them.

Frantic Dimension is so tough that it could tear the arm off a Wookie when it loses… It could escape the event horizon of a black hole… It could beat Vin Diesel in an arm wrestle… You get the idea… Ultimately, though, it’s great fun to play, and as you slowly improve you’ll find that there’s more to Frantic Dimension than at first meets the eye.

The game does have online global score rankings, which you can upload and contribute to after every game you play. Good luck getting anywhere near the top rankings though – the highest scores are insane!

More: http://www.psychoflux.com/
Steam: Frantic Dimension on Steam

Rolling Bird, PC

Rolling Bird is a modern tribute to the classic arcade game Rolling Thunder.

Graphically it looks a bit like an NES game, or an old arcade game. The colours are bold and the animation simple, but still excellent.

Gameplay-wise: you control a guy with a gun. He can shoot (obviously); jump forward; jump upwards (onto a higher platform), drop down (to a lower platform), and duck. And of course he can run left or right and enter doors (by pressing ‘up’ when stood in front of one). Some doors contain weapon upgrades, others: bullet refills, but most contain nothing at all – other than more enemies.

The game is basically a simple run-and-gun shooter, but is extremely challenging and really quite ingenious in its design as it uses ‘procedural generation’ to create the levels (ie. they’re different every time).

I can’t underline, though, how difficult Rolling Bird is. It’s one of the most difficult games I’ve ever played. Certainly one of the most difficult to grab… If you want to see how it should be played, watch this video.

The game’s designer, South Korean Hijong Park, has created a number of free and donationware games that are available on Steam right now. They are all well worth a play in my opinion.

See also: Golden Hornet, a great helicopter shoot ’em up by the same guy.

More: http://www.psychoflux.com/
Steam: Rolling Bird on Steam

SpaceEngine, PC

Vladimir Romanyuk‘s incredible SpaceEngine is a simulation of the entire observable universe, with the goal being “scientific realism”, and to reproduce every known type of astronomical phenomenon.

It uses up-to-date data on real interstellar objects (from the Hipparcos Catalogue for stars, and the NGC and IC catalogues for galaxies), all of which can be visited and explored using the simple controls and the Heads-Up Display (the HUD, which also displays detailed properties of any object that is selected, such as mass, temperature, radius, et cetera); it uses procedural generation to fill in the gaps, and describe places we don’t yet know; and it also includes a complex space exploration element for creating relatively realistic spacecraft to travel around in. Be warned, though: SpaceEngine is not Elite Dangerous, No Man’s Sky, or any other kind of fictional space opera – this is serious, hardcore, realistic stuff. You do not go around blasting lasers at Thargoids in this…

That said: anyone with even a passing interest in astronomy, physics, or science should have a look at SpaceEngine. It’s not perfect (and is improving all the time), but it is pretty damn astounding – the level of detail, variety and beauty in the game is jaw-dropping. Just like the real universe…

The first public release of SpaceEngine was in 2010, and it has been free to download and use since then. Only recently (June 2019), with the release of version 0.990 on Steam, has SpaceEngine become a paid-for program. And at a mere £20 it’s a worthwhile investment if you’re fascinated by the cosmos and science – as everyone should be!

More: SpaceEngine on Wikipedia
Steam: SpaceEngine on Steam

More about SpaceEngine:

The software has its own built-in database which gives detailed information on all celestial objects and allows the player to create custom names and descriptions for them.

SpaceEngine has a locations database where players can save any position and time within the simulation, and can load it from that specific point.

Although objects that form part of a planetary system move, and stars rotate about their axes and orbit each other in multiple star systems, stellar “proper motion” is not simulated, and galaxies are at fixed locations and do not rotate.

Most real-world spacecraft such as Voyager 2 are not provided with SpaceEngine.

Interstellar light absorption is not modelled in SpaceEngine.

SpaceEngine is easily modifiable and supports a large variety of add-ons. The online community has created many third-party add-ons, including high-resolution textures, language localisations, spacecraft models, edited shaders, galaxy models, lens flare effects, and fictional planetary systems. Most add-ons are available via the official website forums.

In SpaceEngine‘s “beta spaceship mode”, the program simulates inertia, realistic gravity wells, and atmospheric dynamics.

Although faster-than-light travel is not currently possible, SpaceEngine implements a feasible warp drive based on the Alcubierre drive.

Relativistic effects on the speed of light are simulated, in areas such as redshifted galaxies, the gravitational redshift exerted by black holes, and the theoretical redshift produced by the above-mentioned warp drive.

Fallout 4, PC

The fourth Fallout was released by Bethesda in 2015, some seven years after Fallout 3, and five years after Fallout: New Vegas. In fact: I would call this the fifth Fallout game, because Fallout: New Vegas was more than just game number 3.5, in my humble opinion – it was the best game in the entire series. But anyway… What do I know?

What Fallout 4 retains from the previous games it benefits from (like lockpicking, hacking, and companions, which are essentially the same), and what Fallout 4 loses from the previous games it also benefits from too. Excepting for maybe the Perk Chart, which I found to be a big step backwards, usability-wise, in Fallout 4.

That ‘blip’ aside, I love the sparse and refined interface of Fallout 4; the story and conversations are simpler and more realistic; and ‘crafting’ has taken on a whole new meaning this time around. New additions to the gameplay, such as building and defending settlements, the use of power armour, and manufacturing helper robots, I think are all excellent. Although base-building in Fallout 4 is not perfect (trying to get fencing to connect up is a bitch), the fundamentals behind it work very well and add another dimension to the Fallout experience.

Of course, Fallout 4 is all about chasing quests, gaining and using experience points, playing politics with different factions, and hoarding every piece of tech and weaponry you can get your hands on. Exploring the crumbling, post-apocalyptic Boston, Massachusetts yields many surprising moments.

What I love most about Fallout 4 is the world itself. And the atmospherics. The effort Bethesda has made to create a believable, destroyed world is remarkable. The use of light/dark; coloured lighting; weather effects; music and sound effects all combine to make something really worth experiencing. On normal difficulty Fallout 4 is a challenging game – that I like too. At times the enemies in the game can be utterly ruthless and punishing (try meeting an Assaultron Demon and its friends when you’re lower levelled and see what you think of that experience…), and there are many unique monsters in the game that are way beyond your initial capabilities and who will mince you for dinner without warning if you make a mis-step. Which is all part of the Fallout RPG experience – fear, followed by eventual domination (when you go back to get your revenge later). And – there being no real level cap this time – you could in theory just keep on surviving indefinitely.

At times Fallout 4 can be frustrating. A game this big and complex is going to have some bugs, and I did experience a couple that broke my game (which I had to use to the console to fix), which nobody wants to do, but at least a fix was available, saving hours of gameplay that I’d otherwise have to re-do. I also think that the item management is still not quite as good as I’ve seen in other games. Organising items can be quite tiring in Fallout 4 and a few tweaks to the menu system might have made it a lot easier. But overall: I don’t want to complain about it too much, because I really enjoyed playing Fallout 4.

Where would I put Fallout 4 in my list of best Fallout games? Is it better than Fallout: New Vegas? Mmm. I would probably put it joint top with Fallout: New Vegas. In some respects, Fallout 4 is better, but in other respects: not. The story/characterisation and world-building in Fallout 4 are outstanding. There’s no doubting that.

More: Fallout 4 on Wikipedia
Steam: Fallout 4 on Steam