Beautiful Desolation on Kickstarter

It’s been a while since I backed anything on Kickstarter. I used to be quite a fan of the crowdfunding platform but over time the quality of the campaigns dipped and I eventually stopped visiting. I just don’t have the time to trawl through all the rough to find the diamonds any longer.

It’s therefore really useful when we’re contacted about projects we might be interested in, such as that for Beautiful Desolation by The Brotherhood. I was a Kickstarter backer for their first title – the isometric science-fiction adventure STASIS – back in November 2013, so obviously the announcement about their new campaign caught my attention.

So much so in fact that I backed the project before I’d even seen the promotional video. I guess I should go do that now so I know what I’m writing about… give me a moment.

< Five minutes later >

So, Beautiful Desolation is a point-and-click adventure set in a post-apocalyptic future after the Penrose monolith appeared without warning in the sky in 1980. Governments laid claim to this impossibly-shaped structure, assembling an investigation team to learn more about its origin and purpose; they were able to reverse-engineer the technology discovered and this accelerated our understanding of physics, materials and computing by centuries. Mankind hurtled forward on an alternative historical trajectory and the world rejoiced – but discovered at the heart of the Penrose, a terminal revealed an unencrypted line of text: “I WILL FIX THIS. MARK LESLIE.”

Players are able to explore a beautiful wasteland to discover villages and destroyed cities while uncovering the secrets of strange and abandoned technology, solving puzzles and using items to work their way through the plot. The iconic African setting gives the opportunity to explore an exciting new world full of creatures and environments inspired by Sub-Saharan flora and fauna. The Brotherhood are using photogrammetry to take hundreds of photographs of scenes and objects before generating 3D-models and textures from the photos themselves; this means that every screen in Beautiful Desolation has a real piece of Africa in it.

If you haven’t yet heard of The Brotherhood, I’d highly recommend checking out STASIS – you can find our interview with developer Chris Bischoff, and our interview with voice-actor Ryan Cooper here on the site. There’s also the recently-released CAYNE, a free horror-adventure story set in the same universe.

The Kickstarter campaign for Beautiful Desolation is due to finish on Saturday, 18 February 2017 so there’s still time to make your pledge. The good news is that, with $64,396 received from 2,244 backers already (at the time of writing), the project is well on its way to its $120,000 target. Head over to the official website for more information.

Walking simulators: it’s not you, it’s me

Dear Walking Simulator,

If anyone had asked me several years ago why I play video games, I would have given them my answer without hesitation: the stories. There was a thrill in becoming immersed in a world and its characters, an eagerness in finding out what would happen to them next. Action and gameplay were important in their own ways, of course they were; but if a title didn’t have a strong narrative to hold it together it wouldn’t capture my attention.

That’s why it felt like fate when we met. Other gamers criticised you for your shortcomings but it was as if my dreams had come true – the one thing I wanted wrapped up in a pretty package. I completed Gone Home in one sitting, feeling unnerved at entering the abandoned house and struggling to prevent a tear from falling at the end. I failed to do the same with To The Moon and spent a rainy afternoon sobbing my heart out like a child. I explored the village of Yaughton in Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, soaking up every inch of its lonely beauty.

And I loved every moment.

But over time, what I want from our relationship is changing. I told you earlier this week that I’ve begun to question outlandish storylines and certain mechanics in old adventure games and a similar thing is starting to happen with other genres too. This is strange because I’ve loved video games for their stories for so long – ever since finding The Secret of Monkey Island as a nine-year-old – and at one point I couldn’t imagine loving them as much for anything else.

But less and less do I want to be a passive spectator. It’s no longer so appealing to simply follow your path and not have some input into or effect on its outcome (or at least feel as if I do): I want to get involved, make decisions, believe I’m having an impact on the situation. I’m not saying I need to be setting off explosions and blowing-up zombies every time we’re together, but I miss the challenge you’re unable to provide.

Maybe this has something to do with my current state of mind. When we first met, I was in a bad relationship with a job I despised and your digital tales were a distraction from the negativity in my life. But taking important steps to change those areas made me realise I’m able to overcome any obstacle thrown at me and I’m now ready to face a similar level of challenge in my gaming experiences. I could be overthinking this after a long day at work… but it feels though our time together is drawing to an end.

You brought me amazing stories and changed the way I viewed narratives within gaming. You showed me that video games are capable of evoking deep feelings and putting the player into the shoes of someone completely different from themselves. You inspired other genres to up-their-narrative-game, and I now have access to multifaceted experiences that provide challenge and decision alongside wonderful plotlines.

I know you feel it too, Walking Simulator. It was great while it lasted but our relationship has run its course. It’s not you, it’s me: I’ll always appreciate what you did for me and will remember you fondly, and it’s now time for me to see what else the world has to offer.

I have to go. There’s a pretty little RPG waiting for me, and he’s holding out the controller.

Love always,

Kim

Day of the Tentacle Remastered: feeling my age

We’re almost at the end of January and so far my New Year’s resolution to play more games is going to plan. I’ve completed The Last Guardian, I’m almost through Year Walk and I’ve watched my stepson play so much Minecraft on the weekends that I now can’t bear to look at another block.

It’s unusual for both Pete and I to arrive home at the same time during the week and our evenings usually consist of one of us getting the chores done while the other has to work late. So when we do, it’s kind of a big deal: we giggle excitedly like children at Christmas as we walk through the door because it means we might be able to fit in a couple of hours of gaming together. Monday was one such night and after pondering over what to play, we decided that something old-school was in order and started Day of the Tentacle Remastered (sorry Firewatch and Oxenfree, you’ll have to wait).

I’ve written before that I’m a big fan of the adventure genre but I have to admit that this was one LucasArts’ title that passed me by in the 1990s – I was too busy swooning over Guybrush and fighting off zombie-ghost-pirates. I played Maniac Mansion briefly in my younger years but it wasn’t a game that held my attention so I never finished it or made it to the sequel. But, with Day on the Tentacle appearing on so many you-must-play lists (and the fact it was one of the PlayStation Plus freebies this month), it seemed like something I should finally get around to.

We watched the introduction and opening credits, with me filling in bits of the backstory for Pete who hadn’t played either of the titles at all. We witnessed Purple Tentacle drinking the toxic sludge behind Dr Fred’s lab and vowing to take over the world. We saw Bernard, Laverne and Hoagie attempt to travel back in time to stop the event from ever happening but becoming displaced in different years after a nasty Chron-O-John accident. And we guided Hoagie through the Inn occupied by the Founding Fathers as they struggled to write the Constitution 200 years in the past, rifling through drawers and cupboards as we went.

“Isn’t it funny,” I mused, “how you can go through someone’s belongings in an adventure game and they won’t even try to stop you?”

We all have our little quirks when it comes to playing video games and this is mine: I’ll always examine every item in the environment before talking to the character right in the middle of it. It’s obvious that that’s the action needed to progress the story but I want to get a feel for the surroundings and situation first so I’m more prepared for whatever comes next. It doesn’t work every time and you can sometimes find yourself thrown into the middle of a conversation without an introduction to get your bearings; but it’s now a habit I can’t seem to shake, so I’ll take the risk.

Red Edison, scientist and Dr Fred’s ancestor, may have stopped us when we tried to take the laboratory coat because Hoagie wasn’t one of his employees. But other than that he let us get on with rummaging through his belongings uninterrupted, even allowing us take the left-handed hammer without even questioning who we were or what we were doing in his room. To be fair, he didn’t even flinch when we finally got around to talking to him and explaining we were from the future – so I guess the hammer is a minor point.

Day of the Tentacle Remastered, video game, Hoagie, bedroom, mirror, bed, kite plans

Looking back on adventures from the nineties today often brings about a feeling of ‘strangeness’ in me. Back at the time of their release, I never stopped to question any aspect of their storyline or mechanics; and now here I am wondering why Red hasn’t called the police. I’m aware that in part this is due to me getting older but nobody likes to acknowledge their age so I’ll instead put it down to my tastes changing over time. And that’s the great thing about the adventure genre and video games in general: whether you’re looking for a fantasy experience or a more realistic one, there’s a title out there to suit everybody.

Anyway, I was playing a game involving an evil Purple Tentacle trying to take over the world and a solution of time-travel… so maybe Red’s reaction to Hoagie’s appearance wasn’t so strange after all. And besides, Day of the Tentacle Remastered did give me the chance to finally investigate Ben’s bed.

I hope his wife doesn’t mind too much.

The life lessons of Murray the skull

My love affair with Monkey Island started when my parents gifted me an Amiga 500 for Christmas when I was nine-years old. My dad asked me what I wanted to try first and one game caught my eye: a box with a mysterious skull in the centre, surrounded by a ghostly ship, fierce-looking pirates and a young swashbuckling hero.

We’d never heard of The Secret of Monkey Island before but after slipping the floppy into the Amiga, my young life changed. My little nine-year-old-mind was entirely blown after realising that worlds I thought only existed inside books could be brought to life through a video game. That day begun a two-decade-long crush on Guybrush and I’ve been a huge fan of the adventure genre ever since.

Last week I came across a post on the Feebles Plays website called Throwback Thursday: Monkey Island. It was clearly written by someone who loves the series just as much as I do and it got me thinking about the characters within the games. A paragraph in the article stood out in particular:

I could not write about my love of Monkey Island without mentioning my favourite regular, Murray the Evil Skull… There is just something very funny to me about a character that wishes to be the pure embodiment of evil and cause chaos, but can’t due to his lack of body. Honestly, Monkey Island is worth playing for Murray who pops up in the most unexpected of places throughout Guybrush’s adventures.

It struck me then that we could all learn a few lessons from Murray.

Don’t let anything hold you back

Murray may have had his skeletal-body blown to pieces by a cannon but did he let that hold him back? No. Many would have been crushed by this tragic accident but our favourite skull turned it into the opportunity he’d been waiting for: to become a demonic overlord and conquer the land of the living. Despite his reduced state, he still considered himself to be an object of pure evil and dreamed of spreading chaos throughout the Caribbean – showing that sometimes all you need to get you places is a positive mental attitude.

Adopt, adapt and overcome

That being said however, it’s also important to know your limits so you can figure out the best way to overcome them. Murray didn’t put his skull in the sand after his unfortunate first encounter with Guybrush and instead adopted and adapted his demonic plan accordingly. Take the conversation shown in the video opposite as a prime an example of his attitude.

Grasp all opportunities that come your way

Murray may have had no obvious means of movement but didn’t let that stop him: he made his way around the Tri-Island area experiencing all that the world had to offer. A role in Slappy Cromwell’s piratical version of Shakespeare on Plunder Island, a scary prop in the crypt on Blood Island, a prize in Dinghy Dog’s guessing game in the Carnival of the Damned – this skull has thrown caution to the wind and seized every opportunity that’s landed in his path.

Ask for help when you need it

Murray has an unbending determination to rule the world and will do whatever it takes to achieve his goal, but understands that sometimes he might need a little push in the right direction. Asking for help is a sign of wisdom rather than one of weakness and that’s why he tries to enlist the assistance of Guybrush on several occasions. Need some bones to support your skull? Then ask the pirate to pick you up so you can bite him and use his. Simple.

There you have it: proof that this is one skull who’s got his s**t together and is going places. Maybe we should all embrace our demonic side and be a little more like Murray.

The Last Guardian: a lesson in trust

I have a huge fondness for both ICO and The Shadow of the Colossus, so a Christmas present of The Last Guardian was very gratefully received. It’s this game that has helped me stick to my New Year’s resolution to play more video games during the first week of January after buying a new house and moving to a different town left little time for gaming last year.

If you haven’t already played the title and intend to do so, you may wish to stop reading now and come back later. This article is as spoiler-free as possible but final paragraph contains details about the end of the game.

Most people will be aware that one of the stars of the title is Trico, a giant griffin-like creature whose name can be taken to mean ‘prisoner’, ‘baby bird’ or a portmanteau of ‘bird’ and ‘cat’ in Japanese. He behaves much like a domesticated animal and this has been a source of frustration for some players: while reviews have been generally favourable, some critics feel that ‘a realistic interpretation of a house pet makes for terrible gameplay’.

Creator Fumita Uedo was asked about Trico’s ‘disobedient behaviour’ in an interview with Eurogamer last year and confirmed that the design was intentional. He said:

It’s something that’s deliberate in the game. There is a worry that it might stress out some people out there. But this game isn’t continual action, it’s not fast-paced. Whether people stress out about that is down to personal preference.

For me, this is what made The Last Guardian as thoughtful and touching as I found it to be. Yes, it can be extremely annoying when you need Trico’s help to reach a ledge and all he wants to do is clean his feathers or play with a nearby chain. But at the same time, it creates one of the most believable bonds between a human and animal within a video game.

Link, Zelda, cats

My other-half and I decided to get a cat when we moved into our new home late last year and after visiting the local Cats Protection branch, we ended adopting not one but a pair. Their history isn’t clear but some ‘challenges’ we’ve faced over the past two months have given us reason to believe they’ve had a bit of a rough time. Link and Zelda (as we’ve chosen to name them) are slowly becoming more trusting of us although we’ve got some way to go yet.

Perhaps that experience has something to do with why The Last Guardian resonated with me. Your character is a young boy who awakes to find himself trapped in a strange cave with Trico, who it’s obvious has been mistreated and is badly hurt. Your initial attempts at helping get you slammed across the wall and knocked unconscious; but slowly the creature starts to become used to your presence, even accepting some food and letting you pull bloody spears from his body.

Over time the protagonists learn more about themselves and each other, even finding a way to communicate. That doesn’t mean that Trico will do exactly as he’s told however: he might choose to ignore your commands in favour of watching nearby birds take flight or giving you an affectionate nuzzle. But if the player was able to simply order the creature around like a tool, The Last Guardian wouldn’t be nearly as effective.

The relationship between the two characters strengthens over the course of the title and is built on trust. When Trico can’t move because he’s scared of the stained-glass eyes dotted around the environment, it paints a picture of the traumatic conditioning he’s been subjected to and it’s up to you to smash the artefacts to pieces. When you’re trapped on the other side of a canyon, Trico mewls at you to give you the confidence to make the jump and catches you before you plummet.

But it’s not only the creature who cares for the boy and fights for his life. It’s clear to see how much he means to the people from his home village too when they risk their safety as he’s taken at the beginning of the game, and do so again when he’s returned by the animal who abducted him. It makes the player feel even more for Trico as he has no place in the world: not only is he feared by humans, he’s assaulted and left by his own kind too.

As I made it to the end and watched The Last Guardian’s final cutscene last weekend, I couldn’t help but brush away a tear and give Link and Zelda a tickle behind the ears. I’m going to miss Trico.

Overwatch: experience tranquility

In the wonderful world of Overwatch, there comes a time when two people who enjoy using the same character find themselves on the same team. What happens then? Who should play as that character? How do console peasants like myself communicate with each other to ensure a mutually-acceptable resolution?

Having come across this dilemma a few times of late, which is odd given the lack of people willing to play a healer in the game, I had to make sure a backup plan was in place. I needed to learn a second character to make sure I could hold my own and contribute to the team in other ways.

Overwatch, video game, GIF

So I picked the robotic monk Zenyatta as he is a blend of support and offense, using orbs to buff and debuff allies and enemies from a distance. It’s proved an enjoyable diversion, with the positional sense I’ve picked up playing Mercy translating into where and when to place the status orbs for maximum effect. As is the case with so much of Overwatch it’s a really enjoyable experience and I feel I have a second string to my bow.

What’s next? Maybe a defensive character, Torbjorn appeals as I like the strategy behind turret placement for maximum effect and to surprise the opposition. We shall see. Either way, if you see me online be sure to say hello and I look forward to being your support!