Blogger Blitz: let battle commence

Drumroll please… pthe Blogger Blitz competition is officially underway! Hosted by the amazing Ian from Adventure Rules, this event is taking place over the next couple of months and will see eight writers battle it out in a series of one-on-one challenges. Their aim: to prove that their sponsored video game character is a true hero who deserves fame and adoration.

The rules

Blogger Blitz is a single-elimination, blind-draw tournament where the order of events and competitors going up against each other are decided randomly by drawing names from a hat. Once their challenge has been set, they must each publish a 500-word post on why their video game character would come out on top. A panel of five talented judges will then read the articles and determine which blogger made the better argument in favour of their protagonist.

The winner will be announced on Adventure Rules and go through to the next round! But that doesn’t mean it’s all over for the writer who lost out… Ian has mysteriously said he’ll be revealing more about that in the future.

My sponsored character

The Secret of Monkey Island, video game, Guybrush Threepwood, pirate, man, surprised

In a totally-surprising-and-not-at-all-expected turn of events (ahem), the character I’ll be sponsoring is Guybrush Threepwood. This witty and competent (read: sarcastic) swashbuckler is the star of the classic Monkey Island adventure series and inspired nine-year old me. I’m feeling confident about my choice: not only has he faced off against the dreaded zombie pirate LeChuck on a number of occasions, he knows plenty of insults and doesn’t fight like a cow.

Round one starts today

Round one matches are taking place today and on 07, 14 and 21 August 2017 and you’ll be able to review the results on Adventure Rules on the Friday following each date. First up are NekoJonez from NekoJonez’s Gaming Blog and LightningEllen from LightningEllen’s Release, who have sponsored Indiana Jones and Lightning Farron respectively.

The other lovely competitors taking part are: Luna from GamersUnitedGG Blog; Luke from Hundstrasse; Lodestar_Valor from Lodestar_Valor’s Gaming Blog; Terri Mae from Sheikah Plate; and The Well-Red Mage. You can find out more about these gorgeous people, their sponsored video game characters, the lineups and judges by checking out Ian’s post here

My first challenge: Mail Delivery!

Here’s my first test: “Two competitors race to deliver mail in a typical suburban neighbourhood, but there’s a twist – Cerberus, the three-headed hound of Hell, is right on your heels! You want to convince the judges that your character will be able to fend off Cerberus while still delivering mail the fastest.”

And as if that wasn’t challenging enough, I’ll be going up against Luke from Hundstrasse who has picked Claire Redfield as his fighter! We’ve seen from his tweets about the question of the month that he’s a master of subtlety and subliminal messaging, so I’ve definitely got a battle on my hands…

Good luck to all of the competitors and thank you to Ian for hosting the Blogger Blitz! Keep up with the competition by following Adventure Rules on Twitter and Facebook.

Open-world fatigue: indies to the rescue

During my editorial posts, I’ve mentioned how it’s been difficult to find time for gaming so far this year. My other-half and I have been undertaking some massive renovation work on our house at the same time as working longer hours; and our weekends are spent chasing after my ten-year old stepson and invariably getting up to some sort of mischief together.

It can therefore be a bit of an effort to work up the motivation to turn on the PlayStation or PC when we do have a spare hour in the evenings. We usually have good intentions but after being stuck at a desk or in meetings all day, it’s hard not to resist the call of a bowl of ice-cream on the sofa in front of some trashy television. However, there are only so many episodes of MasterChef or Dinner Date you can stomach (pun intended).

Last week I came across a post by Dylan over on PlayingWithThoughts entitled What Are Your Thoughts on Grinding? I started to leave a comment about how I’m ‘one of those old-schoolers who doesn’t mind the grind’ but it got me thinking: is there more to it than that? I realised then that the smaller battles or quests which make up grinding suit my current play-style, offering a short section of game that can fill an hour or so but still leave me feeling as if I’m making progress towards an end goal.

Horizon Zero Dawn, video game, female, woman, character, warrior, mountain, view

That being said though, starting up a large RPG when you’re short on spare time can be an incredibly daunting experience. Take Horizon Zero Dawn for example; I thoroughly enjoyed it and fell in love with Aloy, but I’m tired after completing 21 main quests and numerous side missions. I think I’m suffering from a case of open-world fatigue and the thought of going into another title that’s going to take over 100 hours to complete isn’t entirely appealing right now.

That doesn’t mean I’m taking a break from gaming however. In fact, I’ve probably played more video games during the past month than I have done for a while – which may sound strange when you consider how busy life is right now. The answer came in the form of the Steam summer sale at the end of June, like a shining hero stepping out of the open-world fog and handing me the controller in my hour of need.

I’ve already made a start on the 13 games I purchased and so far, these smaller indie titles are fitting in well with our current routine. My other-half and I can get home from our respective offices after a long day at work knowing that even just sixty minutes of gaming will see us make good progress on a title. Although huge RPGs do have a certain appeal, there’s also something nice about being able to complete a game within several sittings and move onto the next one.

Here’s what we’ve managed to finish so far:

  • A Normal Lost Phone – We played a demo at last year’s EGX so I thought I’d give the full game a go. I wouldn’t have said it was anything particularly special, but it was ok; I think it struggles from trying to fit its subject matter into a title that lasts little more than an hour.
  • Mainlining – Another one we played a demo for, at the PC Gamer Weekender a couple of years ago. This one is worth a go if you’re into detective or hacking titles or just want to feel as if you’re a complete cyber-badass at taking down criminals while working for MI7.
  • The Dream Machine – I bought the first two episodes of this point-and-click on a whim because it had received positive reviews. While the puzzles weren’t overly challenging, the storyline was pretty good so I’ll probably buy the rest of the game at some point.
  • Human Resource Machine – I’d wanted this programming simulation for a while because I really enjoyed Little Inferno, one of the developer’s other releases. It’s a good one for anyone who’s interested in coding and likes puzzle games with plenty of challenge.
  • Yesterday – I never like to be completely negative but it was hard to find anything good here. Some of the puzzles are nonsensical, the storyline jumps about all over the place, and is so underwritten in areas that it’s completely unbelievable. I doubt I’ll play the rest of the series.
  • Kathy Rain – I loved the atmosphere in this adventure: it started off as a straight-forward detective story and then got all Twin Peaks. I’ll admit I didn’t entirely understand the plot towards the end but I thoroughly enjoyed it, and hope the developer will make a sequel at some point in the future.

  • Next up is Orwell. It’s an entry that had been sitting in my Steam wishlist for ages and after reading Tabitha’s thoughts on the game over on The Gaming Teacher last month, I finally decided to pick it up in the sale. Then after that I’ll probably tackle Virginia, a title that has been recommended to me by several bloggers I follow here on WordPress. Oh, and I’ve still got to make a start on Life is Strange too because I’m so late to the party.

    So if you’ve been suffering from open-world fatigue too: put down the controller, step away from the RPGs, and pull out that indie gem which has been sitting overlooked in your game library for way too long. You may not find yourself in a world so large or with so many quests to tackle; but you might find an experience which is still as fulfilling.

    Kitacon 2017: less than a month to go

    In just over three weeks I’m due to attend Kitacon. This year it’s taking place at the University of Warwickshire from 18 to 20 August 2017 and it’s thanks to Tim from GeekOut South-West that my other-half and I have tickets. 1,400 standard passes sold out in just over eight minutes so I’m extremely grateful to his lovely partner Jake for being ready to click on the order button.

    In my last update back in May, I mentioned I’d chosen to make a start on two costumes for the event. First up was Eleven from Stranger Things because her outfit is pretty ‘normal’ when compared to others so it’s not too ambitious for a virgin cosplayer – plus the character herself is badass. There’s no way I could make the dress myself but I’ve managed to find a perfect one by VioletHouseClothing on the Etsy website, due to arrive in a week or so.

    Converse, trainers, high-tops, laces, white, Eleven, cosplay

    Although previously toying with the idea of shaving my head, I realised this probably wasn’t the way to go and decided to go down the blonde-wig route instead. I’m still on the lookout for the right hair but in the meantime I’ve got my hands on a blue jacket, tube socks, a Casio watch and Converse high-tops (thanks Amazon). Take a look at Instagram to see more photographs and I’ll add one of the dress once it finally arrives.

    Jumpsuit, yellow, cosplay, April O'Neill

    The second costume was April O’Neil from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and so far I’ve managed to find a yellow jumpsuit. The quality and fit aren’t the greatest but at least it’s easily recognisable as the character’s outfit. Unfortunately the white boots are proving to be a bit of an issue: they’re flat and calf-length rather than heeled and knee-length, and all I seem to be able to find in internet searches right now are thigh-high stilettos. Unless reporter April decided on a career change, I don’t think this is going to give the costume the right look.

    Cosplay, costume, outfit, Velma, Scooby-Doo, glasses, magnifying glass

    In case I can’t pull it off in the next few weeks, I’ve got a third costume on standby: Velma from Scooby Doo. The outfit is ready to go and I don’t need to find a wig after taking the decision to try and grow my hair a little longer earlier this year. Tim and I have set up a Cosplay Progress Board on Trello which is open to everyone in case you want to head over there and see how we’re getting on at any point.

    It’s not all about the cosplay however because there’ll plenty more to see and do at Kitacon next month. Tim himself will be taking part in the anime music video (AMV) competition; and a couple of other friends who are coming to the event with us, Joel and Sarah, are due to host a panel. There are also the infamous parties I’ve heard so much about – please don’t hold it against me if I end up spamming Instagram with drunken photos.

    I must admit though, the whole prospect of Kitacon is slightly daunting. I’m not an anime fan (I’ve tried but it’s just not my cup of tea) and members of the Official Social Group on Facebook have been posting plenty of character images for their cosplay ideas, most of whom I don’t recognise. But you can’t knock it until you’ve tried it, right? I’ll let you know how I get on next month and whether the costumes above make it to the event complete…

    Video game vacations

    Save your game, pack your bags and grab your portable consoles, because summer is here and you deserve a vacation. Let Later Levels and friends be your travel agents as we guide you through some of the hottest destinations in video games that would make for a great holiday.

    Palawan Lagoon from Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine

    Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine, video game, Palawan Lagood, sea, ship, shipwreck, Indiana Jones

    “I think Palawan Lagoon from the fifth level of Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine would be quite lovely to visit, what with the beaches and everything. Since it’s an Indy game, it’s no touristy place – but hey, there are a lot of adventures to be had there… so why not? You also got a semi-sunken ship to explore. I would love to visit this place just to see my childhood memories from the game come to life!”

    Picked by NekoJonez from NekoJonez’s Gaming Blog

    Dunwall from Dishonored

    Dishonored, video game, city, town, harbour, buildings, tower, boat, sailor, sea, Dunwall

    “As a warm-weather-dodger I will be taking my holidays somewhere cool. While a ramble around the mountain ranges of Skyrim sounds nice, once I’ve done the 7,000 steps there’s not much to see. I prefer a city break so plague be damned, I’ll be going to Dunwall for the beautiful architecture, museums, art galleries, the technological marvels, the sea breeze, and all the stolen valuables I can carry. A moment or two of conversation with Piero Joplin, an afternoon taking in the artworks of Anton Sokolov, time to take in the atmosphere – although not too much – and maybe book a trip to Karnaca (Dishonored 2) for winter.”

    Picked by Joel from GeekOut South-West

    Panau from Just Cause 2

    Just Cause 2, video game, Panau, mountains, trees, beach, sea, waves

    “When I think of my dream gaming holiday destination, a few places come to mind: the Mushroom Kingdom; Pokémon’s Kanto region; the beach where the Dead or Alive volleyball games take place (don’t judge me).

    “In the end, though, I realised that what I need is a little excitement. So I’m jetting off to Panau, the island setting of Just Cause 2! It’s perfect: there are beaches, stores, airports… oh, and everything is constantly exploding. All the time. (Also, there’s a dictator whose accent might be really racist, but nvm.) I guess the caveat to my visit is that I sort of need to be the one blowing stuff up, not just a tourist caught in the crossfire, because that would almost definitely involve death and not be fun. I wanna be the one tying one plane to another and parachuting between them, not the one in a regular boring mode of transportation trying to avoid being crushed by men riding literal nukes.”

    Picked by Chris from OverThinker Y

    Hyrule from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

    Legend of Zelda, The Wind Waker, video game, Outset Island, blue skies, island, sea, buildings, windmill

    “The world of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker would be a top vacation spot, I think. Sure, there are loads of annoying critters that’ll try to kill you from time to time, but for the rest of your stay it’d be nothing but blue sea, blue skies and gorgeous, tranquil islands for you to sail between. Just playing Wind Waker is something of a holiday from the grimness and drudgery of real life, so to actually go there on vacation – like, for reals – would be a genuinely magical experience. In your face, Disneyland!!”

    Picked by James from QTX

    Hidden Retreat from Tekken 6

    Tekken 6, video game, fight, fighters. Hidden Retreat, sheep, trees, grass

    “Ah, the lovely Hidden Retreat is home to some of the most adorable animals on earth: sheep. They stand around as the characters of Tekken 6 sort out their business; with gorgeous green grass and a fantastic alpine backdrop, this location is an ideal place to get some much needed rest and relaxation.

    “But when you shave away the animals, there’s something peculiar about this place. I mean, it’s so secluded and yet there’s constant yodelling! Don’t touch the sheep either, they’ll bounce away. Huh, the more I think about it, the worse this vacation gets…”

    Picked by Tim from GeekOut South-West

    The River from Pokémon Snap

    Pokémon Snap, video game, River, Squirtle

    “Pokémon Snap is a game for the Nintendo 64 that allowed the player to take pictures of Pokémon for Professor Oak. You had to have a keen eye in order to see the Pokémon hiding throughout each level. The River level introduces you to awesome favorites like Bulbasaur and Psyduck, along with the beautiful Vileplum. River is a great place to visit, camp, hike, kayak and take pictures. You feel at one with nature and I imagine the air smells pretty darn clean as well! Just look out for the Cloyster lurking about!

    “Gaming friends, my pick Is a tropical retreat from a game that had plenty of scenic levels to choose from! Cast your lines out on this riverboat retreat on river, from Pokémon Snap! Enjoy the cuteness of baby Poliwags at the beginning of the river! Float further down stream and have a laugh with the wacky antics of Slowpoke, or marvel in the beauty of a Vileplum by the side of the riverbank! This level has it all if you’re looking for – fun, tranquillity, and reflection. Who says vacations have to be full with activities anyway?”

    Picked by Luna from GamersUnitedGG Blog

    Rapture from BioShock

    BioShock, video game, Rapture, 1959, sign, New Year, rubble

    “I’ve always understood the draw of the summer but personally I’ve never dealt well in the heat: I burn almost instantly, and plant-life assaults my nose with its inconsiderate pollen production. So for my ideal summer video game getaway I’ve decided to escape the heat, sunshine, and pollen by travelling via express bathysphere to that marvel of industrial enterprise, the underwater city of Rapture. There I’ll while away those hazy summer hours watching humpback whales through the inch-thick glass of my luxury apartment. In the evening I might head over to Fort Frolic to catch an avant-garde production in Fleet Hall before drinks somewhere in Poseidon Plaza and a few hands of blackjack over at Pharaoh’s Fortune Casino. Sure it’s a hedonistic place, but with a buck in your pocket the world is your oyster in a place like Rapture… I might even get a little spliced… because who wouldn’t want telekinetic powers… right?…”

    Picked by Luke from Hundstrasse

    The island from The Witness

    The Witness, video game, island, sea, harbour, trees

    “The island where The Witness is set is one of the most beautiful settings within a video game and would be an amazing place to visit in real life. You wouldn’t get one vacation but several: when you got tired of sunbathing on the gorgeous beach, you could take a boat trip, visit the sand dunes, explore the jungle or climb the mountain to reach the temple at the top. As if that wasn’t enough to do, there are plenty of puzzles to complete when you need something to tax the brain; and no other holiday-goers around would mean plenty of rest and relaxation. Pure bliss!”

    Picked by Kim from Later Levels

    It’s that Friday feeling

    It’s finally Friday. The day of the week that arrives, like a superhero clad in cape and spandex, just in time to stop us battering our colleagues over the head with a keyboard and whisks us away for two days of escapism (and hopefully a few hours of video games).

    This particular Friday has been made extra special for me, as Later Levels has been very kindly tagged in the Top 10 Happies post by the lovely Imtiaz over on Power Bomb Attack. This is a nomination doing the rounds where bloggers share their thoughts on ten things that make them cheerful – not only allowing us to get to know them a little better but also putting a smile on our faces in the process. With a big thank you to Imtiaz and without further ado, here’s my very own happy list.

    1. My boys

    Pete, Ethan

    Anyone to regularly stops by this blog has no doubt read about Pete and Ethan – my other-half and ten-year old stepson. I really don’t know what I’d do without these two and they provide so much inspiration and positivity every day. Pete puts up with a hell of a lot from me and I couldn’t do everything I do without his support; and Ethan has taught me that ‘everything is awesome when you’re part of a team’. Love them both to bits.

    2. Adult weekends

    Bar, drink, gin, tonic, glass, lemon, ice, rosemary

    This entry is nowhere near as rude as it sounds! Ethan stays with us on the weekends but every once in a while, Pete and I get to have one to ourselves – aka ‘an adult weekend’. They don’t happen frequently which is what makes them so special, and when they do come around they present an opportunity for us to spend some proper time together. You can usually find us doing a few of the things on this list, with the possibility of a few G&Ts thrown in for good measure.

    3. Video games

    Horizon Zero Dawn, video game, woman, warrior, Aloy, mountains, sky, photo mode, clouds

    What sort of happy list would this be without mentioning video games? I’ve been gaming for almost three decades now and ever since I found The Secret of Monkey Island as a nine-year old, I’ve loved adventures in particular. There’s something great about waking up in the morning and knowing that you have nothing ahead of you for the day except that new game you’ve been dying to get stuck into; and it’s even better when you’ve got someone like Pete to play it with.

    4. Cooking

    Carrot cake

    The other thing I love doing in my spare time besides playing video games is cooking. There have been several months where I’ve not been able to spend any time in the kitchen due to major renovations to the ground-floor of our house but now that it’s mostly finished, I’m able to get back out there. I’ve recently been baking at least once a week and sending Pete into work with cake for his colleagues; and the next recipe I’m planning on trying is this carrot cake (my favourite) by Terri Mae over at Sheikah Plate.

    5. Food

    Sandbank, restaurant, building, outside, nights, lights

    This entry is a nice follow-on from the one above: as much as I love cooking, food and the eating of it make me a very happy woman. A local restaurant does a special ‘I’ve Started and I’ll Finish’ menu where you don’t have a main course, but can order as many of their starters and desserts as you can manage. This is absolute heaven for me because I love trying a little bit of everything; and if you’re ever in Essex, I urge you to seek this place out for their creme brulee. You won’t regret it.

    6. Expos

    You don’t need to be a member of the press to get the most out of expos and there’s something addictive about that excitement of walking through the doors and seeing the crowd, the anticipation of meeting developers and talking about their work, and the happy exhaustion that comes from spending several days on your feet. I’m really looking forward to going to Kitacon next month for the first time properly, and then to EGX in September; then next year, maybe Gamescom.

    7. Link and Zelda

    Link, Zelda, cats

    No, I’m not referring to Nintendo’s well-known characters: I’m talking about our cats. We adopted these two shortly after moving into our house last October and they’ve become a firm part of the family since then. You’ll often find them popping up during streams and they became a feature of our GameBlast17 marathon earlier this year. And there are plenty of photos of Zelda on Instragram, as she insists on sitting in front of the television whenever I turn the PlayStation on.

    8. Supporting SpecialEffect

    British 10K, race, runners, London, Kim, SpecialEffect

    I’ve supported this charity since meeting them at an event back in 2013 and the work they do is so inspiring. Their aim is to put fun and inclusion back into the lives of those with physical disabilities by helping them to play video games, using equipment such as modified controllers and eye-control software. If you ever have the opportunity to participate in GameBlast, volunteer for them at an expo or run as part of their team in the British 10K: just do it. It’ll be one of the most uplifting experiences you’ve ever had.

    9. Blogging and the community

    Rezzed, video games, gaming, expo, Impact Winter, Kim

    As well as video games, what sort of happy list would this be if I didn’t mention you lot? I’ve had such a great time since starting to blog regularly on Later Levels since the beginning of this year and I’ve learnt so much from the writers I’ve met; not only about games themselves, but also about how to become a better blogger myself and to push myself further. The biggest thank you from the bottom of my heart – you guys are awesome and you keep me smiling.

    10. Nice surprises

    Nice surprises make me happy. From finding out you’ve been nominated for a blogging award by someone amazing you follow; to being mentioned in a tweet by a developer you’ve admired for a long time; to unexpectedly coming across a BioShock-inspired diving helmet at an antiques centre (true story). It’s those little unanticipated treats in life which make things sweet and interesting, and remind you that every day there’s a possibility something wondrous could happen.

    In keeping with Imtiaz’s very own Top 10 Happies post, it’s now only fair to pass the baton on and find out what makes other bloggers happy. I’ve had the opportunity to work with the following writers a little more closely recently and you can expect a short collaboration post from us next week:

  • Ian from Adventure Rules
  • Luke from Hundstrasse
  • Luna from GamersUnitedGG Blog
  • Tim and Joel from GeekOut South-West
  • NekoJonez from NekoJonez’s Gaming Blog
  • Chris from OverThinker Y
  • James from QTX
  • Kevin from The Mental Attic

  • Even if you haven’t been mentioned above, let us know what makes you cheerful by either posting your own happy list or telling us in the comments below. Let’s keep that Friday feeling going for as long as we can!

    Something fishy going on with Kickstarter

    Anyone with a fondness for adventures has probably heard of The Neverhood. Released on PC in 1996 by The Neverhood, Inc, it stood out from others at the time because it had a distinctive look: it was produced using claymation instead of pixels.

    A crowdfunding campaign for its spiritual successor Armikrog was launched in May 2013 and a total of $974,578 from 18,126 backers was raised for the project. Unfortunately though, it just wasn’t that good. Its gameplay was buggy oversimplified, with repetitive puzzles and characters with limited personalities; and the game would have benefited from more time to polish up the clay-work so the end quality was the same standard as the beginning. I can imagine many of the Kickstarter backers came away disappointed.

    Unfortunately, it’s ambitious projects like these which tend to come up against the most problems. Stop-motion animation titles aren’t cheap or easy to make and usually come with huge budgets, and that can be a daunting prospect for any independent developer. Perhaps the answer is to capture the feeling of stop-motion films while still benefiting from the possibilities of the digital world.

    Well, lo and behold: there’s now a new campaign on Kickstarter for a project that does just that. Harold Halibut is an underwater adventure where everything seen in-game is built in a real-world workshop using classic sculpting, set-building, and clay and puppet fabrication techniques. Developer Slow Bros. took the decision to switch from stop-motion to 3D scanning all objects and animating them via motion-capturing technology for the most part.

    The team are using a similar process to that being used for another Kickstarter campaign I’ve backed this year, Beautiful Desolation by The Brotherhood. Photogrammetry sees them taking ‘a bajillion pictures’ of the physical in-game items they’ve crafted by hand ‘from every conceivable angle’ in order to make a 3D model from it. They’re also using a material-scanning method developed by Apex Visual: their proprietary mains picks up even the tiniest details of handmade surfaces.

    All of this sounds like a hell of a lot of time-consuming work, but so far the evidence displayed on the Kickstarter page for Harold Halibut shows that it’s worth it. Take a look at the promotional video from Slow Bros. to see what I mean – the game looks amazing. Players are able to zoom right in to get a closer look at the world in front of them, including the expressions on the puppets’ faces, and everything appears so tactile; that doesn’t mean this title is just a pretty face though.

    The video also explains the project’s storyline but here’s a quick overview for you. Hundreds of years ago, a generation ship was sent out as humanity’s last chance to continue life elsewhere. But poor planning and silly fights in the cockpit resulted in a crash-landing on a planet made of water. Janitor Harold must help Professor Jeanne Mareaux find a way to relaunch the ship and enable communication within a society that has long been fixated on being the last outpost of humanity. Players should be prepared to make things around the station ‘bleep and bloop’ but be careful though: breaking the wrong item may cause someone to hold a long-time grudge with you.

    There’s also a chance that you may be randomly challenged to a thumb-wrestling match – if that’s not a final reason to back this campaign, then I don’t know what is. The Kickstarter page remains open until 04 August 2017 and Slow Bros. if you’d like to show your support for Harold Halibut.