A Fist Full of Quarters
I took a week off of work for my birthday, and as can probably be expected, I spent much of that playing games.
Being in a cat-like mood, I started with Stray.
It’s a relatively short 7-10 hour game where you control a cat on a quest to rejoin its friends after being separated from them. Like any cat, you can’t talk and must interact with objects using only your mouth and claws. And of course there’s an achievement for meowing at least 100 times. Meow.
Even though some might expect otherwise, I’m not a huge fan of Cyberpunk aesthetics as a general rule, and this game didn’t change that. The streets are dingy, the lighting is oppressively dark, and the buildings are a slapdash collection of rundown relics or hastily assembled trash. Yet it’s these same roofs, fences, beams, and pipes that lets you guide the cat nimbly through the world, reaching otherwise inaccessible areas.
There’s a drone on its own quest to reach the outside world that helps you “speak” with the various robot residents littering the grimy underworld. It’s these robots that I found most jarring, as they had literal TVs as faces, and display various emotions as if flipping through channels. They even show a little heart on the screen and emit a pleased tone if you rub against their leg. Regardless, it’s an artistic choice I found rather offputting rather than charming. The style would work better as a cartoon, rather than a fully realized 3D rendering.
The cat for its part is pretty realistic. Its movements are mostly accurate, it has a litany of available meows, and as previously mentioned, can interact with the environment. You can scratch rugs, couches, and loose wallpaper, bat around balls, get a bag stuck on your head, and even open shades by scratching at them until they retract. Meowing can trigger various events, and robots seem to universally enjoy having the cat rub against them.
Sadly, the game has an incredibly irritating autosave system that only triggers during story events, and not while exiting the game even when using the menu. Worse, there’s no way to save manually. This means any collectibles, conversations, and actions toward achievements, are all lost if you exit the game without advancing the story. I almost quit in disgust after losing an hour of progress following a short break where I closed the game. If these developers ever release another game that piques my interest, I’m going to steadfastly avoid it until I know they’ve avoided this particular pitfall. I seriously want to reach through the internet to slap them.
Despite my disdain for the art style and the autosave system, I did enjoy playing it. It was a welcome distraction employing a very unlikely hero, and while there were a couple frustrating points, it wasn’t too difficult.
The other game I played was Electrician Simulator. I have no idea why I play so many of these “simulator” games. Here’s a short list of the others in my library:
- Car Mechanic Simulator 2018
- Car Mechanic Simulator 2021
- House Flipper
- Mech Mechanic Simulator
- PC Building Simulator
After watching DieselDesigns Gaming, a streamer that seems to have similar tastes as me, I decided to buy it under the assumption it would scratch that same itch.
For the most part, it was exactly what I hoped. There’s a workbench where you can fix various electronics for customers, such as mice, headphones, and even an off-brand Roomba. It has a good training system to explain the game mechanics, and I enjoyed the story missions. It took a bit of time getting used to the system for running electric cables, but it was only a speed bump. One of the houses is actually used for several of the missions, from fixing mistakes made by the general contractor, to tracking down (and eventually punishing) a sneaky electricity thief.
Unfortunately, the game ended right when it was just getting interesting. Right when I had a good handle on the controls and quirks of the game itself, it was over. I spent just over six hours and reached the last mission: a congratulating note from my father saying I should move on to a bigger town to prove myself now that I’m a master electrician. And then the credits rolled.
I’ve never had that happen in a simulator game before. This game has no procedural generation of any kind, which is a vast departure from most simulator games. Usually story missions are how you advance between chapters, and generated missions build experience points or cash to unlock or buy new tools or abilities.
The game essentially wastes any potential it had. The developers must have been under some kind of deadline and released the game “early”. They promised to add more missions or DLC later, but who really knows what that means. Missing such basic functionality, and having a minuscule amount of story missions is fairly inexcusable. It’s somewhat common for games on steam to be available in Early Access for months or even years at a time. The game clearly isn’t finished, so why not just leave it in Early Access until it’s actually ready? Why release it in this state?
I’ll keep an eye on it for later; hopefully Electrician Simulator joins its rightful place among its peers.
Bass Street Chop House
I have a time-honored tradition to visit a good steakhouse for my birthday. Before Corona hit, that was Bass Street Chop House. Now that everything is opening up again, Jen and I returned there for more of the best steak in the Quad Cities.
The plan was to repeat our last visit. Start with some Lobster Corn Chowder, continue with a dry aged Delmonico Ribeye with marrow butter, and maybe consider some dessert. Our last visit was easily the best steak I’ve ever had, so I was looking forward to going again.
Unfortunately things didn’t quite go as planned. Apparently there were some big groups through the week and they had run out of the Delmonico, so I had to settle for the New York Strip instead. Then they said the marrow butter is reserved for the specific menu item that lists it, because they don’t make extra. That meant I had to choose another, or (perhaps a better choice) go without. They have a bacon bourbon butter that sounded good, so I had them substitute that instead.
What I didn’t realize is that this butter would overpower the steak rather than accent it. Further, the steak contained a rather large chunk of cartilage under the fat cap, which didn’t happen when I ordered the Delmonico on our previous visit. The meat also wasn’t as tender, given New York Strips aren’t as well marbled. I feel like I should have ignored the expense and simply ordered a suitable portion of their A-5 Wagyu instead.
The steak was still good, great even, but it wasn’t the experience I remembered. The butter was my mistake; I should have gone with the garlic herb butter instead, or none at all. As a cook, I know bourbon reductions work better with fish or chicken due to the strong flavor, and steak tends to carry itself, especially when dry aged. I’ll have to keep that in mind for next time.
In any case, I enjoyed my “birthday week” immensely. Here’s looking to next year!