Electron Dance
22Dec/184

Twilight’s Last Gaming 2018/1: Cultist Simulator

I don't do Game of the Year, but I can do the games I enjoyed the most this year. This is the first of three.

I had a peculiar relationship with card game Cultist Simulator (Weather Factory, 2018). It was a bit... S&M.

On one hand, it was amazing. Dense, full of words that demanded to be read. Lovecraftian without the Lovecraft. I sometimes wished I could sit down for more than 5 minutes to try to assemble the disparate facts I'd learnt into a coherent picture.

And there was the discoverable system aspect, where the arcane rules could only be demysticised through experimentation, the player's role becoming an alchemist of verbs and nouns. A writing simulator, maybe? Wait, no, it's a cookery game. You have to assemble ingredients to make dark noun recipes in verb ovens. Yes, that's it. I think.

But I was uncertain on where I stood on the cookie clicker mechanism that ran through it like swear words through a stick of rock. Cookie clickers are not my kind of thing. I did play the original Cookie Clicker once and I lamented in an old newsletter how I lost so many hours to it despite trying to be dispassionate about the whole thing. The click/wait grind loop is in many games, of course; perhaps it would be wiser to compare Cultist Simulator to an RTS? To construct a unit in an RTS requires prerequisites and resources which take time to gather and assemble while heading off the threat of attack. Cultist Simulator is closer to that than a pure cookie clicker, but RTS games typically operate more deterministically than the luck of Cultist Simulator's draw.

Anyway, I was moved to write the piece Penetrate the Night which I eventually turned into a 9-minute film. I was proud of the final results.

Cultist Simulator is meant to be replayed but after achieving victory once, I haven't really played again. I always intended to go back, but it's pretty good at eating your time and I have to write about more than one game a year, right? Cultist Simulator has been substantially enhanced since and the Weather Factory team are musing on how to make the game shorter in a future update.

Just the very fact that I can easily call it a cookery game, a card game and an RTS without feeling queasy should be enough to convince you there's something interesting going on here. It is spellbinding but be warned. Once you open the Game of the Many-Angled Words you might find it hard to come back to reality.

Cultist Simulator can be purchased on Steam or itch.io.

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  1. I give it a try, I pass many hours playing, but I feel that or I am not going any where or the progress it’s too long, annoying and not satisfying, it’s like a psychological test of how long you spend on something that give you pain and stress for no reason. I will try to end it, someday… @_@

    The whole game is well done, I like the lovecraftian atmosphere, good writing, you can see that has a research job of occultism and such. But you cant really enjoy the story, because in the end it is fragmented in small, repetitive texts, that in some moment you just read fast to continue “working”. The entire play is based in these two commands of “pause” and “fast-forward”, games based in time can be very annoying if not carefully done, even if you have the “pause” action, it’s all happening in the same time, for milliseconds of difference you can lose the stability of your table. The movement of zoom in, zoom out, put the cards in the boxes, close the window description, fast-forward, pause collect, look around for the card, then put again on the box, close the window description again, going every time for the X, then zoom out, look for cards on the table. So multiple this for 10, then 50, 100 times, pause and fast-forward, again and again, while the game has a dozen of ways you can lose the game every minute, dread, going well in your job, been sacrificed, going arrested, going sick, going hunger for losing your money and other ways it probably has.

    In the beginning I have fun discovering how to game works, but after losing a dozen of times, restarting the game from scratch, I could understand some of the mechanisms, by try and error, doing exact the same thing, to see what it’s (supposedly) random and what it’s not and how the events it’s triggered. First you get confused for the dread and the investigation system, for I can see the dynamics of the dread system must be the same, with some small differences for the path you chose. I have stop losing for the “despair” and “jail” when I understand that every cycle of the Hourglass trigger an event, so the dread will become “dread” in a specific time, as so too your adversary will begin the investigation in a specific moment. The dreams I realised that I could move at least two times in the “astral map” by the level of lore of my “path” or desire, which in my case I kept in these of enlightenment. But improving my lore, demands searching in books, that I must purchase, which until I get the right book while keeping my game alive, demands time. Even if I understand how the game works, I still cant progress after spending some hours in it, many mechanisms are too distant, blocked for me until I get the necessary requirements.

    For me the most annoying thing is the job, it is very conscious the aspect of being an “annoyance”, but you can’t play at all without it and if you go to further you loose the game as well. You dosen’t have any liberty to take any risks, if you have enough money and wish to try an occult work, after two cycles you lose your position in the job, lose two money, while beginning to lose one more, then you “speech (talk)” to receive your reward, but you still have sell it to grab some money and should do this supposing you have every “box” free to put a card and enough time to do this without loosing more money, get a heart sick, being hungry, being chased by the “bureau” and going to despair by dread. So if I try getting money from painting, it takes too long many cycles, many requirements and still you receive few money and plus leave a ton of “notoriety”.
    It’s crazy! After two hours playing it’s me who is going to be insane, with my head spinning. If this is the intention, congratulations. It is a very smart game, but I can’t be doing this forever. For the narrative, I don’t consider a narrative to be just texts, the narrative it’s embodied in the whole game design, every aspect represents the narrative. The problem is that the pacing is to fast, to many things happing, the progress is slow, not satisfying, it’s not exactly a frustration, I know what I have to do and don’t feel that I lose unjustly, is more a stressfully and annoying experience. So it’s hard to enjoy the narrative, its lost, it became an obstacle. It could still be that, but the annoyance came too from the interface, it’s not practical.

    Taking off all these, I think it deserves to be played, I had some fun, maybe in “cultist simulator 2” some elements should be rethink.

  2. OMG, the grammatical errors in this comment are horrible, even for me… I don’t know if I can edit, for the time being I hope you can understand something I wrote! hahahaha

    = )

  3. Hello Petrus, it seems you are no longer Pedro :O

    I think this is a very reasonable reaction to Cultist Simulator. I had to put it down for the end of year posts because I spent a lot of time in the game and enjoyed much of it. But in the end, there was something tired about my final run, finishing the game. At least when I was playing my last game – a victory – I had been working for such a long time and backing up my game to prevent against being toppled by fascination (which seemed grossly unfair).

    At that point, most of the mechanics and texts had been laid so bare that it was an exercise in clicking for luck. I really, really want to see what the current version of CS looks like, to see what has changed.

    I had both a ecstatically positive and violently negative reaction to the game. Plus I had to give it kudos for charting a different direction.

  4. Yes, I change, I now belong to the new order… we are many… just kidding, the etymology is the same as Peter (english), Pedro (portuguese and spanish), Petros (greek) or Petrus (latin) which is “rock”, “stone”, etc. But I don’t know how another idioms should “translate” this name, since in japonese for example it seems it’s not a name for “rock” but it’s the “translation” of the sound “Pedro” (correct me if I’m wrong) and in english is Peter (like saint Peter, the stone which is funded the catholic church) which has it’s origins in greek, but “Peter” in itself doesn’t remember “rock” or “stone” in english, but I think it would be strange (or cool?) if it was Rocker or Stoner.

    (^ _ ^)

    I foreseen that in the end I would think it was a “wast of time” or that it doesn’t compensate the hours I would spend in playing. I think this disappointment in the end, even with the victory it’s the acknowledgement that you are playing through a flawed game, which you wouldn’t play through the end if you know about it’s flaws. It’s not (only) because is difficult, many games are so hard to beat that when you finish it’s almost a relief. In cultist simulation I get the feeling that the game it’s not a “game”, in the sense that doesn’t accomplish it’s full potential or if not, should be redone or discarded to try other approach. The mystery around it’s gameplay hides the misery of the game. I sound rash or bitter, on the other hand I think it has many good aspects that make me thinking about many interesting things. That most of the design could be seem as a abstraction of what constitutes an game, in this case more close to an strategy game, and the mental properties and operations of the player’s character, through a chosen background, like occultism, but could be others genres. In this sense, the word “simulation” is very appropriate, it is in a certain way a simulation through a minimalist approach, with small cards, small icons and small texts. But it’s like I said, it has many, many flaws, it should be rethink. The card system for example, that almost IS the game, is not good, not practical, not intuitive and principally not “fun”. Very misleading and exhaustive, not only to find your cards in the table, which gets lost independently of what you do, but the act of reading the card or using it in the “slots” or any action and interaction it has. Playing “solitaire” in an 95’s Windows is more comfortable and appealing than Cultist Simulation.

    Again, in certain way, I liked. I really look forward to see another version or even entirely new Cultist Simulation, it has potential to be great or to be to be forgotten through history’s grains, we can only wonder…

    (@_@’)


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