Galactic Scoundrels


My son and I just got back from the local tabletop game store (which rules, by the way), where we hung out at the kickoff party for Galactic Scoundrels, created by a local game company we backed on Kickstarter a few months ago.

It’s a storytelling game played with cards, dice, and (in our case) an appreciation for fart jokes. You’re collaboratively creating the dumbest or weirdest or bawdiest space western you can come up with. The game benefits immensely if you commit to either creating an over-the-top story or becoming a cartoonishly Randian scumbag.

Everyone in the game plays at being an off-brand Han Solo. You’re a space pirate with a ship that starts out as cheap crap and a moral code that hopefully ends up the same way. You try to bluff your way into a job (smuggling, theft, etc.) for some quick cash. If you get it, you do your best not to screw it up. While everyone else tries to screw you. Unless they’re trying to help you. For a price. Assuming they aren’t lying. Which they probably are.

It was me and my 11-year-old boy playing with an eighth-grader and one of the store’s employees, and we were all friends by the end of the first round. We faced everything from black holes to wormholes to a-holes to awkward sexual tension. We had only our guns, our wits, some bribing cash, and not a little bit of smarm to help us. Sometimes we could face a problem head on, sometimes we had to jettison unstable cargo or use a paying passenger as a human shield.

And we laughed. We laughed a lot. This thing was made for parties. It’s silly and funny and things are perfectly structured so the storytelling experience can fall anywhere on the spectrum from PG to Pornhub, depending on the crowd.

So far I’ve noticed only two weaknesses that really aren’t. One is that our first game, playing all three “episodes”, took well over an hour, so a full game isn’t quick. It feels like that’ll speed up as everyone gets familiar with the rules, though. And you can always play just an episode or two or use special “house rules” to accelerate things if you want to keep it to 30 minutes or less.

The other is that the biggest strength of the game is also its potential weakness: the story. The mechanics are fun enough, but the reason I’m bothering to write about the game at all its storytelling aspect. If you’ve got a group doing paint-by-numbers plots where the hacked data you’ve made off with is “spy secrets”, you won’t have as much fun. But if you’re playing with people who’ll imagine the data is the galactic president’s browser history, you’re going to have a ball. Story is such a big part of it that I didn’t care who won. I just wanted to see what happened next.

Right now I don’t know how to buy if you aren’t a backer and don’t live in central Arkansas, though you may be able to buy from Game Goblins’ site (the first link up top). I’m sure the creators would be delighted to help you if you contact them. They’re delightful nerds who made a delightful nerd game that made my entire weekend. I can’t imagine they’d be anything less than helpful. Here’s hoping this will be a springboard to even bigger successes for them.

Seems appropriate that it was Diablo

Blizzard announced this week a new Diablo game for mobile, not PC or console. Fans completely lost all perspective and succumbed to blind rage.

It’s really, really easy to make a nerd burn here or do the usual “kids today are so entitled” thing that literally every generation has done. But the real concern for me here is yet more fandamentalism. More from the new Church of Entertainment. More of people trying to find meaning by clutching at things that could not be more meaningless. And waiting in the wings? Are those ready to exploit it.

It’s easy, too, to get lost in judgment while watching it, but what I feel right now is heartache. Because what I see is a whole lot of needless suffering and fear. Fear of what Russell Brand (!) perfectly termed the unrelenting echo of an unfillable void.

I don’t know how we fix this. I refuse to believe that it isn’t fixable. But the rot is deep and the scale is staggering. It may take massive calamity before we awaken to it. Or, as Alan Watts once put it, “You won’t wake up until you feel you’ve paid a price for it.”

How Music Was Made on Super Nintendo

This is one of those intersections of art and engineering that never fail to delight me. The sheer scale of effort required to manually code individual sound instructions to get around the hardware’s technical limitations is insane to me. That’s a labor of love. And the end result is often beautiful enough to stand on its own as ambient music.


So I get excitable when I get excited about stuff. Take what follows with a grain of salt, I guess. But:

Games like INSIDE (and LIMBO, its predecessor) feel like they’re on the cusp of a new kind of storytelling medium. They’re not quite there, but they feel like they’re preparing the way.

Games-as-storytelling have mostly been attempts to make movies with playable elements divvied up with acting sequences. Movie clones in the same way that early movies were essentially filmed plays.

INSIDE has no cutscenes, no dialogue. No third dimension. Hell, your character doesn’t have a face. But he (or she) does have an arc, and it’s a good and tragic one. All told through running, hiding, climbing, swimming, and shoving objects around.

I’ve probably played LIMBO a dozen times even though I have every obstacle memorized. I started a new game of INSIDE about an hour after I finished my first run through. It’s grim and is brimming with black laughter, and yet something lyrical flutters at the center of it, too. Even when the especially gruesome third act kicks in.

These games are masterpieces. They’re on the verge of something new.

INSIDE is seven bucks on the App Store, but it's worth every penny.

Dani Bunton changed video games forever

I fell down a Wiki rabbit hole recently after a Slack conversation about Arkansas software development. I didn't know that at one time, one of the best video game companies in the world was right here in Little Rock.

David Koon did a great cover story about their star developer a few years back. It does the whole historical-gendering, he-then-she thing, but otherwise it's a damn fine tribute to an unsung hero of software.

I'm one degree removed from her, turns out. A friend of mine started chatting with her in a bar in Hillcrest in the early '90s, somehow they got on the subject of games, and he declared to her that the greatest game of all time was M.U.L.E.

"I wrote that," she said, and it took a bit for her to convince him. From then on they were friends until her death.

"I still pull out my old Commodore and play it," he told me. "I've probably played M.U.L.E. 2000 times since the 1980s. And I've literally never seen a game go the same way twice."

Hell of a thing.