Untitled Small Games Club - Star Fetchers - June 2020

This is the June 2020 thread for the Untitled Small Games Club, see this thread if you want to see more details about the club.

The short version is that for the month of June, we’re going to play and discuss Star Fetchers by Svavelstickan, as suggested by @idkicarus

Price: Free, it is a prologue to an upcoming Episode 1

Platforms: Windows

Length: <1 hour

Some content warnings, but by no means an exhaustive list:

  • Very violent in general
  • Animal slaughter very early on
  • Reference to suicide (it is faked)
  • Cops and prisons

Please be liberal with spoiler tagging. Very small mechanical things can easily be a spoiler to others, even if you don’t think they are.

Also, have fun!

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I had nothing to do yesterday, so I was actually able to participate in this month’s USGC! It’s still fresh, obviously, so I haven’t had a ton of time to ruminate on it, but here are my initial thoughts. Not sure how much I should be putting under spoiler tags, so I’ll just put basically all of it to be safe:

I’ll start with what I didn’t really like:

I am tired of games presenting the idea of violence being bad, while at the same time having almost the entirety of the gameplay be mindless hyper-violence. We see this way too often, and I’m tired of it! If there’s a character that’s against violence, it seems strange that there isn’t a non-violent option for these encounters. I can see what they’re going for with this, as they’re probably setting this up for a story beat that will happen later on in the narrative, but the characterization of the main character doesn’t match up with the senseless violence I am forced to make them commit. I can also maybe understand the argument that the contrast of those 2 things is what the developer was going for, but I don’t know, it just seems off to me. There’s also some fiddly-ness with the gameplay itself and the tutorialization that didn’t feel great to me, but that stuff was too minor to get into in depth.

Now for the stuff I liked:

The music in this game is SO good. It’s music like this that reminds me how much music can really elevate an experience like this. It added so much to the atmosphere of the game, and any time a new scene started, and those drums kicked in, it really got me going. Killer soundtrack. I also enjoyed the setup of the world, and the setup for the narrative the game has. The gang tower, and the mysterious Dog Head & Bones gang that preside at the top of the tower, left me intrigued, and ready to find out more about how the zone functions. I’m skeptical on how it’ll handle themes like police corruption and gang violence moving forward, but it at least got me interested enough to find out how it resolves.

Anyway, those are my initial thoughts, I can’t wait to hear what everyone else thinks of it!

P.S.

Shout out to GoGo Shrimp Daddy, gone too soon.

Just as a heads up, some content warnings for this game have been flagged. I’ll amend them to the original post but so people know:

  • Very violent in general
  • Animal slaughter very early on
  • Reference to suicide (it is faked)
  • Cops and prisons

Here’s the Pilot OST for those who need these jams in their ears. :slight_smile:

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@AlexLemoine So, I think what you’re criticizing is really interesting and apt. I think there’s an argument to be had about what Star Fetchers is using its violence for. Specifically, Hotline Miami, a game that was kind of one of the forerunners of this trend, uses its violence to address violence in video games. And this has been done probably before and definitely after that game.

But my question is whether or not Star Fetchers is using its violence to address the player and the game or to address something broader about violence, crime, and poverty. I don’t think it’s insignificant that this game starts with Sanyati being asked by her boss to kill a bunch of pigs, and then to pivot to killing rival gangs. I think this game could be trying to address how both the state (with police officers) and capital entities (with animal slaughter) are given licenses to perform violence. This is evidently unjust. But does that mean it is therefore necessary for those oppressed by those entities to enact violence themselves? If so, then on whom? And what purpose should that violence serve? Sanyati and Zambezi seem to disagree on that. And I think that might be a core thing here.

Now, that’s not to say that there isn’t a similar hypocrisy going on here. If you are going to revel in violence, it is strange to then expect us to feel uneasy about the ethical ramifications of it. But I don’t think this game is going in the direction of “Do you like hurting other people?”

On that note, this game reminds me a lot of Hotline Miami. And that’s not a bad thing, I happen to adore how those games play. The controls aren’t quite as precise, but that ends up having a cool, different effect, where you kinda feel like you’re fumbling your way through a fight. A lot of the encounters feel a little one-note, but I think the bosses and the added mechanics of bullets show some potential for more dynamic gameplay. I did have a lot of performance issues on my end, lots and lots of stuttering and chugging, but that’s nothing that can’t be fixed, on my end or theirs. I really like the two main characters right now. It helps that their designs are the fucking coolest. I am curious to see where their relationship goes, as it currently is very fraught and has some potential to explore the themes mentioned above. It’s very over the top writing, but I think it works for the general aesthetic it’s going for. I’m super interested in where some of the set-ups are going here, both in the world and in the plot.

DOG HEAD. DOG HEAD. WHO IS HE? WHO IS HE?

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For anyone interested, the soundtrack is available on Bandcamp: https://constrobuz.bandcamp.com/album/star-fetchers-pilot-mixtape. I’ve had it on heavy rotation for the past few weeks I still can’t get enough.

Themes:

I understand your point about games presenting violence as bad while only allowing the player to commit violence. In this case, though, I feel like it’s pulled off pretty effectively.

Besides setting up early on that Sanyati dislikes the act of slaughtering pigs as part of her job, the game does a good job showing that Sanyati didn’t really have a say in teaming up with Zambezi to slaughter rival gang members.

When the option is to let gang members rob and kill you at the shitty store where you work for a meager wage or agree to commit violence with a stranger offering you a few more moments to live, you’re powerless. While it doesn’t necessarily excuse violence by Sanyati, it makes me understand why they would yield to Zambezi so quickly and feel loyalty/indebtedness afterwards. In some ways, all Sanyati did was leave one bad job for another bad one with better pay.

The conflict/disconnect between Sanyati’s internal monologue and their actions reminds me of B.J. Blazkowicz in the Wolfenstein reboot. Yes, B.J. can be interpreted as a pure killing machine, but it’s not something that he does completely willingly. Yes, he enjoys fucking up Nazis, but from his monologues and interactions with Anya, it’s easy to see that if Nazis weren’t a problem he’d probably never have taken up a gun in adulthood.

All that is to say, I’m a sucker for introspective types reluctantly forced to act out of character because they’re in circumstances where any other option seems impossible. It might be a little trite, but I like the exploration of “Am I who I say I am or am I what I do?”

Gameplay:

I noticed something on my second playthrough that isn’t tutorialized (and it might not even be intended). You don’t actually have to kill every rival gang member that you come across. You can run past a lot of them. Besides bosses, the only time I think you’re forced to kill gang members is if they’re onscreen and you want to enter a door.

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This definitely reminds me of Hotline Miami. Too much even, though if it’s a newer developer than taking direct inspiration is more reasonable. I’m also kind of dubious about whether this is going to SAY anything later. I’m not necessarily sure even if Hotline Miami really communicated all that much in the end, but there I at least felt like there was some vision, and we’ve seen a lot of violent games about violence since that’ve raised the bar. Here, we get the violence, Hispanic gang members trying to rob the store, the vaguely religious cult, a ranting anti-capitalist in front of a vending machine, the police, the prison… and I don’t trust it. It’s all really broad, and I feel like it could just be taking influences over taking a real stand, or at least its own unique one. The main character is somewhat sympathetic, and they’re already having doubts about all the murderin’ so some groundwork seems to be being put down. The pigs thing is interesting, some of the readings you all have are interesting… we’ll see if it can get there or if it’s set dressing.

I didn’t love the combat, which felt a bit like fumbling around. The best way I found was just to stand slightly outside of enemy range and point my sword at them, waver it up and down a bit and wait until I was lined up past their guard, and then move forward and brush my sword at their torso until they fell down. Which wasn’t very exciting. Quick stabbing felt better, kicking seemed finicky. Is this going to be able to vary the combat later? Hotline Miami had level layouts that changed things up, but the side view here limits that. I also started running past some members.

Music really was great (though maybe repeated a bit too much), and there were some really nice stylistic flourishes with the art and the portraits. I agree the main characters look nice too.

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