Games and ghosts: gaming urban legends

That time of year when the ghosts of the dead are said to return to our world will shortly be upon us: Halloween. In celebration of All Hallows’ Eve tomorrow, I’ve been bravely exploring the darkest and most sinister corners or the internet to bring you eight video game urban legends that will keep you wide awake tonight.

So put the controller down, turn the lights down low, pull the screen close and prepare to be spooked…

Berzerk

Berzerk is considered to be one of the greatest titles of the arcade-era and was one of the first games to use voice synthesis, an incredibly-expensive process back in 1980. It introduced the world to the demonic smiling face of Evil Otto, a bouncing villain who would chase the player down if they spent too much time lingering in a single panel of his maze.

It also holds the morbid honour of being the first video game to be linked to the death of a player. During 15 minutes of play in 1982, Peter Bukowski (sometimes reported as ‘Burkowski’) wrote his initials at least twice on the leaderboards screen but then turned, took four steps, dropped a quarter into a different machine and collapsed.

Unlike Polybius (see below), this tale is a fact and you can read about it online. The cause of death was ruled as a heart-attack but some say otherwise: they believe Evil Otto possessed the supernatural ability to influence life-threatening conditions and cause instant death to any intruder who failed to heed his warning…

Fallout 3

2008’s Fallout 3 contains several in-game radio stations, the most important one being Galaxy News Radio (GNR). Most players know that you can kill Three Dog and he’ll be replaced by technician Margaret; but what fewer know is that under certain circumstances, GNR will become a ‘numbers station’ and broadcast unusual coded messages.

You’ll hear a voice reading a series of numbers in a depressed-sounding voice, which are then followed by lengths of Morse code and the song I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire. Some say these messages are predictions of what will happen in the future after a player realised one referred to the passing of Gary Coleman, with the numbers relating to the date and time of his death.

You can find out more about the communications themselves on the snopes.com website. Bethesda has denied the claims several times and the Queen didn’t pass on 19 March 2014 so it looks like this story is an elaborate hoax; but we’ll know the truth for sure on 27 February 2023 if Britney Spears wins an Oscar. It may also be worth noting that the latest date on any of the Morse code messages is 01:27 on 06 July 2027…

Killswitch

Killswitch was supposedly created by Soviet gaming company Karvina Corporation in 1989, with only limited copies produced and proving very popular. The video game itself was a pioneer in the survival-horror genre: players had to choose between two characters, a shape-changing woman named Porto or an invisible demon named Ghast, and the goal was to navigate through an abandoned coal mine whilst battling monsters.

As it was hard to do this with a transparent character, most players chose to complete the title as the female protagonist. But there’s no proof that anyone ever managed to finish with either Porto or Ghast – because upon beating the game, all evidence of it would be erased from your hard drive. Karvina Corporation apparently made it in a way so it could only be experienced once and as very few copies were made, it faded into obscurity.

But in 2005 an unopened copy of Killswitch surfaced on eBay where it was promptly bought for $733,000 by a man from Japan named Yamamoto Ryuichi. He had planned to document his playthrough of the game on YouTube but the only video he ended up posting was of him staring at his computer screen and crying. This footage has too since vanished… or did it never really exist at all?

Pokémon Red

The release of Pokémon Red in Japan in 1996 supposedly corresponded to a huge spike in illness and suicides amongst children aged between seven and 12. Players succumbed after reaching Lavender Town, a haunted and ghost-filled area that’s home to the only cemetery within the series. The significance of this shouldn’t be underestimated: for one of the video games to deal so directly death was unusual.

Red’s score was said to be the source of the suicidal tendencies and this was eventually dubbed ‘Lavender Town syndrome’. The music in the level was changed before the title was released outside of Japan and Nintendo have always claimed that this was because the high-pitched tones caused a strain on the Game Boy’s speakers. However, in 2010 someone who analysed the score revealed Unowns that spelled out ‘LEAVE NOW’.

In addition, the reported six-hundred-plus seizures that occurred after the Porygon episode of the series was aired is true, which makes this urban legend seem all the more plausible…

Polybius

According to legend, an arcade cabinet named Polybius appeared in several suburbs of Portland, Oregon in 1981. It proved to be very popular with lines forming around machines and players fighting over who would get their turn next; could this have something to do with the subliminal messages it supposedly contained? It’s said that the title induced psychological effects and many complained of amnesia and night terrors, but some sources claimed the side-effects were more severe with players experiencing suicidal tendencies.

As if that wasn’t frightening enough, an unnamed arcade owner apparently reported that men in black coats were seen collecting data from the machines. This led some to speculate that it wasn’t a video game but a CIA-type experiment, and the name of the company that produced it seems to back up this theory. ‘Sinneslöschen’ is the German word for ‘deletion of senses’: were they in fact a secret government organisation?

Around a month after its release, Polybius is said to have disappeared without a trace. A single machine has never been found and, while some have said they worked on the game and others have attempted to recreate it, nobody has ever been able to produce definitive proof it ever existed…

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

Legend has it that there is a sinister mod to The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind that could potentially drive a player insane. File jvk1166z.esp was originally thought to be a virus as it would freeze and corrupt all save game files when loaded, but it was soon discovered that it would work when ran in DOSbox.

All the main characters were already dead when the player started. Staying in one spot for too long caused their health to deplete and if they died in this manner, a new character revealed himself: a man whose limbs were long and bent like a spiders’. They noticed that if they paid close attention they could see ‘the Assassin’ around corners or scurrying up walls for brief moments, but that wasn’t the only weird thing; characters left alive would come outside at night to stare up at the sky, and attempting to interact with them would cause them to only say ‘Watch the sky.’

A new dungeon was also discovered, inside of which was what started being referred to as the ‘hall of portraits’ as it was lined with pictures which were in fact photos from the player’s PC. At the end was a locked door and nobody has ever been able to prove they’ve opened it (although it was claimed it would do so upon some kind of celestial event). Some have alleged that after hours of trying to do so, they began to see the Assassin scuttling around in real life… As made up as this story seems, the scariest part is that the mod does in fact exist so download it at your own risk.

Twisted Metal: Harbor City

Since the first edition was released on the PlayStation in 1995, Twisted Metal has had a cult following. In 2003 Sony were set to develop a follow-up called Twisted Metal: Harbor City but only four levels were completed and the video game was never finished. In March 2005, the six founding members of the team died in a plane crash and the project was cancelled shortly afterwards.

Things turned surreal when a note appeared in the developer’s headquarters, pleading with them to let fans play the levels mentioned above. It was signed with the names of the six deceased team members and read: ‘We are disappointed to hear of your decision to keep the world from seeing the last of our work… We beg of you… Show them all what we have done… Show them our last earthly deeds… If you doubt our existence, look to The Dark Past for proof that we are who we say…’

The note is available to read online and The Dark Past refers to a documentary on the Twisted Metal: Head On disc, where groups of numbers appear onscreen and correspond to letters of the alphabet. The fact the message reads ‘Twisted Metal is coming on PS3’ when deciphered has led many to believe that this was nothing more than an elaborate piece of marketing… but could the note have been real and a message from beyond the grave?

World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft is still one of the most popular massively-multiplayer online RPG (MMORPG) games, even 13 years after its release. It’s no surprise that hidden secrets and odd moments can be found when you consider how big its world is but one of the creepiest is the Children of Goldshire. In a normally empty house by the edge of a lake, a group of six kids form a pentagram formation when the game server’s clock hits 07:00.

Players have reported that when they stand in the centre of the group, they can hear strange noises such as banshee screams, crying, the voice of C’Thuan saying ‘You will die’ and an old woman laughing hysterically. Perhaps the strangest thing though is that when you enter the room, a track starts to play which isn’t found anywhere else within the game; and we all know how much Blizzard likes reusing its assets.

You can follow the group from Stormwind City to the house and they never once break their formation, and they aren’t part of any quest line. The developer has never released an official statement about the Children of Goldshire and their silence has caused many to claim the kids are some sort of doomsday cult; some believe they’re creating a code with their pentagram movement which is just waiting to be cracked…

Although I’ve tried to provide as many links as possible within this post in an attempt to provide some evidence, I think it’s fair to say that these urban legends are nothing more than stories to make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. But still, you might want to unplug your PC or console before you go to bed this evening… just to be on the safe side…

Happy Halloween!   🎃

Conversation and critique: CAYNE

Nufafitc has been on the blogging scene for seven years now and so it’s highly likely you’ve already come across his Emotional Multimedia Ride site. I think I may have found someone who’s as big a fan of the adventure genre as I am: we’ve had a number of conversations about our favourite titles and what we’re looking forward to next.

After one such discussion, we thought it would be great to collaborate on a post and the following conversation is the result. We’d both played isometric horror-adventure STASIS already and loved and disliked it for different reasons; so how would we feel about The Brotherhood’s return to the grim world of the Groomlake in prequel CAYNE? We got together online to discuss our thoughts after playing the game and you can read on to find out more – watch out for spoilers if you haven’t yet played it yourself.

•••

nufafitc: Heya, I’m currently up for some review chat if you have time.

Kim: Let’s do this! Can I throw out a question to start us off?

nufafitc: Awesome, please do. I’ll check my screenshots and remember what I’ve actually played.

Kim: Can you remember how long ago it was that you played STASIS?

nufafitc: I wrote the review of STASIS in 2015 for the Halloween special. So yes, two years ago.

Kim: Ah, the same as me – I just checked and I think it was in October or November 2015. I didn’t realise it was so long ago!

nufafitc: Yes and I don’t remember much of it, except that it had some really good sound design.

Kim: Oh yeah, the sound was excellent! That bit when John did the operation on himself… *shudders*… How do you think that length of time affected your enjoyment of CAYNE?

nufafitc: I don’t think it has affected my enjoyment in any way. As a matter of fact, I guess I liked and disliked CAYNE for the same reasons as I found the original game interesting and problematic. Talking about gratuitous violence and bloodshed, I just remember picking up all sorts of body parts back then.

Kim: You said ‘gratuitous’… does that mean you thought that some of the scenes in STASIS were unnecessary?

nufafitc: Well, let’s just say that I found a lot of the gore and blood too much. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a HUGE fan of horror movies and gory games. But yes, I found it too forced at times.

The thing about STASIS was that I felt it tried to be so controversial that it just used these scenes for controversy’s sake. Which was a shame, because the atmosphere was spot-on. It just tried to borrow so many things from sci-fi and horror movies (and games), that it lost its uniqueness.

Kim: I thought the operation scene was great and Ryan Cooper (John’s voice actor) did such a good job. But I do agree that there were a lot of ‘borrowed’ aspects to the game and they didn’t necessarily all work together. I remember getting to the end and thinking, ‘But what about this? And what about that?’

nufafitc: Yes, the voice acting was pretty good. I think technically it was a really great game. The main problem with the storytelling I had was that you had to browse through endless text in diaries and such.

Kim: That I didn’t mind too much… but the PDAs didn’t give as many answers as I would have liked. Mutated clones; a mysterious fungus; a giant insect queen; log files referring to ‘The Twins’… There was just so much and I got confused as to how it all fitted together. I know the developers said CAYNE would explain further, but I’m still not sure I understand entirely!

nufafitc: You’re right, it only gave hints at something bigger. I especially liked the final part with the BioShock-like museum where you learned about the man who did all these things for the greater good. But yes, let’s talk about CAYNE and whether it actually added to the experience or not.

Kim: I think for me, I would have enjoyed CAYNE more if I’d played it closer to the original game. There were so many elements to STASIS and trying to recall them all while playing CAYNE was difficult.

nufafitc: Well, that’s the problem with prequels, isn’t it? Ridley Scott is still trying to better his Alien movie and fails in understanding his own mythology.

It might have been interesting to see how this would have affected playing it. But to be honest, I couldn’t be bothered to go through STASIS again.

Kim: I enjoyed it… but I can’t say I’ve felt the urge to go back to it in the past two years. CAYNE made me remember how much I’d enjoyed STASIS, but also how confused it had made me! Ha ha ha

nufafitc: For me it was the same feeling two years ago: ‘What’s with all the blood, gore, swearing, and sick people?’ Speaking of ‘swearing’, I think this time they really exaggerated.

Kim: Yeah, I’d agree with that – there were a couple of points where the F-bomb shocked me because it was thrown in so casually!

nufafitc: Absolutely, and other words we might have to edit when this goes online!

Kim: And speaking of people: who was Hadley? When I started playing CAYNE, I thought she was connected to John somehow but that wasn’t the case!

nufafitc: Never heard of Hadley either. You’re asking the wrong person!

Kim: Oh good, I thought I’d missed something by not knowing who Hadley was.

nufafitc: Wasn’t it a bit misogynistic as well? I mean, some of the stuff people wrote and what some of the sickos said?

Kim: The language and tone were definitely… harsher… and it seemed a little out of place at some points. I mean, I didn’t find CAYNE as scary or as gory as STASIS; but then there were these parts where it felt like a PDA entry or conversation entry were thrown in for the shock factor. One thing is for certain though: I wouldn’t have wanted to work with the crew of that ship!

nufafitc: Ha ha yes, and getting pregnant was worst-case-scenario.

Kim: But to get pregnant by someone who was paid to do it? Ouch…!

nufafitc: On that note, what did you think about the main protagonist being a pregnant woman?
Was it something different or just for controversy?

Kim: At first it was a bit of a shock, because it’s not something you usually see in a protagonist! But then I liked the fact it was different and also that Hadley wasn’t entirely accepting of her pregnancy. Usually when pregnant women are depicted in media, it’s as the ‘joyful mother to be’.

nufafitc: I agree, that was quite an interesting concept, although… she moved quite fast and climbed a lot for a pregnant woman. I was fearing the worst – I mean, you know how slow adventure protagonists can move sometimes and I was like ‘Ah, please, where’s the skip-the-slow-pregnant-walk key?’ But I was pleasantly surprised about her speed, although again it would have been nice to double-click on exits.

Kim: Do you think if she had moved slower, it would have added to the horror factor?

nufafitc: It would definitely have added to my ‘losing patience’ factor. I think one could have used her state for some more interesting, tense scenes, although she was put through some sick stuff. Not Ellen Ripley stuff, but still…

Kim: That’s interesting – you think the developers could have used Hadley’s pregnancy to better effect? (This is turning into a bit of a weird conversation!)

nufafitc: Yes – as we already noticed, except for her belly and her insistence on not really wanting the child at first, she didn’t behave any differently.

Kim: Yes, that’s true. Her pregnancy only had an impact again at the end, during the twist…

nufafitc: We’re talking about a game full of sick people, larvae, blood and gore decorating the walls… it was only a matter of time until we hit that point in our conversation! It had its story moments but what about puzzles?

Kim: Hmm… mixed bag, from my point of view. What did you think?

nufafitc: I have mixed feelings about the puzzles in CAYNE. I thought there was too much backtracking and looking for items that can often be overlooked, something lots of point-and-clickers suffer from. Were they original? I don’t think so. Were they difficult? Not really. Did they fit the story? Mostly.

Kim: What did you think of the protein powder puzzle?

nufafitc: Ah, the oldest trick in the adventure book… like getting the key from the other side by using a newspaper.

Kim: Clichéd?

nufafitc: Yes, kinda. I think the solutions weren’t so hard, it was just finding the items in the environment.

Kim: That’s what I thought too. The puzzles made sense to me but some of the items didn’t.

nufafitc: Sometimes I already knew what to use but had to go through each screen and collect it. At least you weren’t carrying around more body parts. Although it wouldn’t have been too difficult, the place was littered with them.

Kim: But you were carrying around grub breast milk… ewww…

nufafitc: Aaaah, gee, thanks for reminding me. I completely forgot about that. And the way you got it… yuck.

Kim: Not to mention cutting open that big womb thing… talking about it now, you realise how gross it all was!

nufafitc: Seen that, been there, done that.

Kim: Just a day in the life of nufafitc (joking!).

nufafitc: Well Halloween is soon, so I have to do some research!

Kim: So how would you say CAYNE compared to the other games you’ve been playing for Halloween?

nufafitc: It was a filler but no killer. It wasn’t really scary to be honest, although the atmosphere was good; STASIS had more impressive scenes or at least some that had jump-scares. I think it’s like STASIS in that you kind of enjoy it in a twisted way but will ultimately forget it. I mean it’s for free and for that you can do much worse, as it has some good graphics, especially the cut-scenes, music, and nice voice-acting. The puzzles might not be the best, but they’re not bad either. The story and characters, well… okay.

Oh, I just found an interesting screenshot that made me smile because it hinted at better humour than in the dialogues. There’s this holographic tin of Jukka Cola and it says ‘WHO NEEDS SLEEP? JUKKA COLA. IT’S REFRESHING ADDICTIVE. May cause chronic insomnia, headaches, vomiting, diarrhoea, nausea, hallucinations, hypertension, gastrointestinal bleeding, peripheral neuropathy, cardiac dysrhythmia, congestive heart failure, toxic epidermal necrolysis, catastrophic haemorrhage and death.’ I think it’s a good example that there was some twisted humour that could have worked better to make fun of technology without using curse words.

Kim: Yeah, the Jukka Cola scene did give me a bit of a giggle! It was a light-hearted point in a game with a ‘heavy’ atmosphere, but the humour still retained a lot of darkness.

nufafitc: The next screenshot shows Hadley picking up a stripper pole and… yes, actually putting it in her inventory. Subtle adventure game mechanics…

Kim: Don’t you just hate that? ‘No, I can’t pick up that item because it’s too big.’ ‘Why yes, I’ll take that stripper pole.’

nufafitc: Well, she already had that baby to carry around so don’t ask me where she had room to put it. To answer your question: Yes, I think if a game tries to be realistic and atmospheric, then that’s rather silly. I also thought that Hadley’s comments were repetitive at times, like ‘That is nasty.’

Kim: I was expecting her to come out with ‘Like, totally!’ at some point. Ok, that was a bit harsh of me!

nufafitc: ‘Guys, come one, give me more of those bucketloads of swine blood and maybe throw in some maggots while you’re at it. I still have some clean spots left.’ That was harsh too, sorry!

Kim: But funny! So what we’re saying is that CAYNE was a good game considering it was free, but ultimately a little forgettable?

nufafitc: Yes, I think we can sum it up like that.

Kim: I have to say though, playing it reminded me how much I enjoy isometric adventures. You don’t see many of them nowadays. I don’t quite know what it is but the perspective adds something to the horror.

nufafitc: I think with the perspective you could actually zoom in and out, and that could be used more. Sanitarium, that was a really good game.

Kim: Oh Sanitarium was great – it was just so freaky!

nufafitc: And Sanitarium was quite original, even if puzzles were even more infuriating and controls were pretty bad. Still, I like replaying that game once in a while. Time for a Halloween special, maybe next year!

Kim: Yes, that’s something positive about CAYNE and STASIS – they’re good-looking games. Gorily good-looking, but still…

nufafitc: I’m looking forward to The Brotherhood’s next game. I mean they have the technology, they only need to refine their writing.

Kim: I backed STASIS so I’ve backed the Beautiful Desolation Kickstarter too. I like the fact the developers are going for something different this time, more sci-fi and less horror.

nufafitc: I think if they’d tone down on the violence, gore, and language, this could be a good game.

Kim: We’ll need to play that one when it comes out, and have a chat about it too!

nufafitc: Good last words I think, with the future chat review!

•••


So as discussed above: CAYNE is ultimately forgettable, but it’s a free title which offers a few hours of gorily good-looking graphics and creepy atmosphere so you can’t really go wrong. It’s something worth picking up this month – and something else worth doing at this spooky time of year is heading over to Emotional Multimedia Ride for nufafitc’s Halloween special.

This collaboration was a lot of fun to do so I’ve been thinking about the possibility of making it a series… if anyone would be interested in taking part in a conversation and critique post and have a suggestion for a game we could play, I’d love to hear from you!

One Lovely Blog: meet and greet

Earlier this month, the lovely ClanGeek nominated Later Levels for the One Lovely Blog Award. Head over to the ClanGeek site for a mix of posts on subjects such as gaming, reading, fantasy and more – and be sure to check out this one comparing level one to level one-hundred (more about that later).

There’s a part of blogging awards like this I really like: their rules usually state that you have to share a bit about yourself, your blogging history, or advice for new writers. But there’s also a bit I don’t like: there’s normally a requirement to nominate a certain number of other bloggers in return. How on earth can I select just a few when I’ve met so many awesome people this year that deserve your follow?

That’s why I’d like to do this post a little differently (and I hope this is ok with ClanGeek!). I’d like to ask everyone reading this to add their mark by leaving their answers to the following random questions in the comments below, so we can get to know each other a little better. Hopefully it will act as a channel that enables us to find others with similar interests, and increase the number of bloggers they follow!

  • Location
  • Currently playing
  • Video game setting you’d most like to visit
  • Video game character you’d most like to meet
  • Whether you prefer level one or level 100 (see ClanGeek’s post)
  • What you want for Christmas
  • A piece of advice for new bloggers
  • A link to your favourite post on your site

  • It isn’t right to ask something I wouldn’t feel comfortable answering myself, so it would only be fair of me to share my answers too. Here goes:

  • Essex, in the south-east of the UK
  • The Elder Scrolls Online
  • The island from The Witness
  • Murray the skull
  • Level one
  • This Rapture jacket
  • Write because you have something to say, not because you need something to post
  • The hardest co-op

  • A big thank you once again to ClanGeek for the nomination, and to you lovely people for all of your support. I look forward to seeing your answers below!

    Checkpoint: a letter to Ethan

    Dear Ethan,

    You’ve probably got your head stuck in another Minecraft video right now, so I need you to tear yourself away from YouTube for a few minutes. I promise this won’t take long and then you can get back to what you were watching – just one final video before cleaning your bedroom, ok? I know you’re rolling your ten-year old eyes at me while reading this but you know the deal: chores equal pocket-money.

    You and your dad are my world, I’ve told you that often enough. You make being a stepmum more easy than I deserve but sometimes, it’s more difficult than you’ll ever understand. It’s so hard to watch you feel the need to compare yourself to everyone around you and see you crushed when you consider yourself lacking; then even harder to hear you say you don’t believe us when we tell you just how awesome you are.

    There are so many amazing things about you and maybe me putting them into words for all the world to see will finally convince you of them. I know part of you will blush and moan at me for being ’embarrassing’ but hopefully the other part will forgive me, and finally start to realise what makes you so special. I’m willing to take that risk.

    Rezzed, video games, gaming, expo, Ethan

    One area you should never compare yourself to others in is imagination. You’re more imaginative than anyone I’ve ever known and you’ve been making up your own stories since the day we first met. Remember how we were supposed to go to the supermarket to buy supplies for a picnic, but instead you had me running around the aisles with you while hiding from your dad? We were the brave soldiers and he was the enemy. He wasn’t best pleased when he finally found us hiding underneath rack of dresses in the clothing section, but it was kind of funny.

    Now you’re getting older, you’re starting to make up plots for video games and keep your ideas for them in your notebook – and I appreciate the fact you’ve added a particular character to some of them, a female protagonist who’s clever and kicks butt at the same time. Maybe one day we can sit down together to write a post about all your plans and share them with everyone.

    Those worlds exist inside your head only. Nobody else can create the stories you do or send us on the wild adventures you come up with. Don’t ever change and let that spark die because I tell you what, kid: it’s going to take you to all sorts of wonderful places when you get older.

    Insomnia, video games, Ethan, Kim

    Stop comparing yourself to those you watch on YouTube and getting frustrated when you can’t complete a game as quickly as they appear to do. Stop worrying when your friends at school tell you they’re better gamers and you’re so far behind them. Those YouTubers edit their videos but they can’t edit real life; and it’s highly likely your friends are fibbing when they shout about how great they are. (Also, if they really are playing Call of Duty at the age of ten, someone needs to have an urgent word with their parents and tell them they need to spend more time with their kids).

    Video games are meant to be fun and we each play for all sorts of reasons – winning is only a small part of it. Your dad plays because he likes exploring every part of a game and looking for secret objects and trophies. I like getting wrapped up in the stories and trying to figure out what’s going to happen next. And you, I know you like pretending to be the characters and making them a part of your next plot. In fact, most people I know enjoy video games for reasons other than winning – maybe I’ll share them in another letter to you soon.

    I know it’s hard but try to push all those doubts to one side and just keep being you. Keep playing video games, keep having fun, and keep creating your fantastical stories. Your dad and I think you’re awesome just the way we are, and the world wouldn’t be as bright a place without your wonderful imagination.

    We’re proud of you.

    All my love,

    Your stepmum   x

    Decisions, decisions

    For anyone visiting Later Levels today and expecting a new post about video games, my apologies. This one is off-topic and more personal than my usual ramblings. If you’d prefer to read about gaming and want to come back next week instead, I won’t hold it against you!

    •••

    Everyone goes through those moments in their lives where they stop, take a step back and assess where they’re heading. Sometimes these pauses cause us to see we’re on track for where we want to go; and sometimes we recognise we need to adjust direction slightly to move towards the goal we’ve set our hearts on. And at other times we realise the scenery around us has changed, the destination no longer looks so inviting and we might need to get ourselves a new map.

    In last month’s editorial, I briefly wrote about feeling demotivated and a lot of this is to do with my current state of mind at work. I’m tired of highlighting the same risks over and over, of always being told ‘maybe next year’ when I make recommendations, and every month seeing the impact of those risks increase. I just want to move forward and actually achieve something but right now it feels as though there’s a game-breaking bug stopping me from reaching the end of this level.

    Maybe I need to start a new game.

    This has gone on for too long now so I’ve been considering my own direction over the past few weeks. I think I’d like to go into something more technical. I’ve enjoyed learning code since messing around with my dad’s Commodore 64 as a kid, and picking up HTML and CSS as part of being a WordPress blogger has been fun, so why not continue on that path? There’s just a small problem: all of my qualifications are focused on IT best-practice and the last time I held a technical role was over five years ago.

    I therefore need to retrain so I’ve been thinking about starting a Computing & IT degree early next year. I’ve already registered for the course but every time I log into my account, something stops me from clicking on the ‘enrol’ button and completing the final steps. I really want to do this but it’s a huge decision and there are so many important things to consider.

    First up is the cost. This degree will mean six years’ worth of study and for each of those I’ll have to find several thousand pounds. It’s a big amount to pay out, particularly when my other-half and I are still trying to renovate the house we moved into last October. He’s extremely supportive and keeps telling me I should do this but I feel guilty about spending so much of our money on something more for ‘me’ than for ‘us’.

    Insomnia, video games, Ethan, Kim

    Next is the time. I can’t afford to give up working so I’ll therefore need to study part-time and find an additional 23-hours each week to fit in the necessary modules. I can probably meet around half of those during the week but the weekends are more problematic as we only get to see my stepson from Friday evenings to Sunday afternoons. Is it really fair on my little family for me to spend what time we do have together with my head stuck in a text book?

    While the ‘cost’ element is something I have to come to terms with, the ‘time’ factor is more something I’ll have to make a decision on. The simplest answer would be to give up blogging in favour of studying but it’s a really tough choice to take. I’ve had so much fun with Later Levels over the past ten months and have met some amazing people; and it feels as though I’m finally beginning to find a writing ‘voice’ I feel comfortable with.

    I’m not sure I’m ready to give that up just yet.

    Ultimately, I don’t want to let anybody down. I don’t want to squander our savings on a degree which I either don’t enjoy, fail or use to get me to a new place. I don’t want to use my weekends to study for it if it’s going to make my other-half and stepson feel as though I don’t spend enough time with them. And I don’t want to simply disappear from the blogging community when everyone has given me so much support.

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

    Life decisions such as this are always going to be difficult. It’s like playing a game you’ve sunk over 100-hours into: you’re comfortable but bored with your level 50, and the idea of starting a new release right back at level one is exciting but daunting. We all know how much gamers dislike having to sit through a tutorial and how frequently we rage-quit – but we’re also great at solving problems, battling through tough scenes and saving the world.

    Who knows, maybe by the time this post has been published I’ll have made my decision and finally clicked on that ‘enrol’ button.

    Beginner’s guide to indie: part three

    It’s time for the final part of my beginner’s guide to indie and, if you didn’t find something that tickles your fancy in part one or two last week, then hopefully we’ll manage to put that right today. Once again, a big thank you to Dan from Now is Games for suggesting I write this series and being the inspiration behind it.

    As mentioned in my last posts: the following list contains only games I’ve actually played myself (except for the final category below) and, as pretty obvious from the content on Later Levels, I tend to favour adventures or games with strong narratives. However, I’ve made a point of not making every entry a point-and-click so hopefully there’s something for everyone here. Without further ado, let’s round this series off!

    Typing games

    Epistory – Typing Chronicles is a game I’m not sure many people know of but it’s definitely worth checking out if you enjoyed The Typing of the Dead: Overkill (my guilty pleasure). There are no zombies this time however: the world unfolds in front of you like an origami storybook and it tells the story of a writer who’s stuck for inspiration. You defeat your foes by typing words shown on-screen and every element in the title is controlled exclusively with the keyboard.

    On the other end of the typing-game-spectrum is Hacknet, a simulator based on UNIX commands and real hacking rather than the Hollywood-version of it. The hacker responsible for creating the most invasive security system on the planet is dead and it’s now up to you to unravel the mystery and ensure that Hacknet-OS doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. If you’re not good under pressure or tend to type with two fingers only, then it’s probably not one for you.

    Visual novels

    I’m not a huge fan of visual novels and so my knowledge is somewhat lacking, but here’s one I actually enjoyed playing. Cinders is a mature take on the classic Cinderella fairytale and it’s not as cutesy as you’d imagine: this heroine isn’t afraid of taking fate into her own hands, even if it means breaking the rules. There’s plenty of player choice and my Cinders became an independent lone traveller who didn’t need a man by her side – you go, girl.

    Next up is one of my favourite video games: To The Moon. It’s been called an adventure and an RPG but its gameplay elements are so light that it’s more like a visual novel with some movement. If you’re looking for action then it won’t be to your taste; but if you want to get drawn into an amazing story then I urge you to pick this up as soon as possible. Just be aware that you’ll be crying like a baby by the time the credits roll and will probably need a hug.

    Something different

    Looking for something different? Then you’ve come to the right place. First in this section is Her Story, a full-motion video (FMV) game which has you sorting through clips of old police interviews in order to discover what happened to a woman’s missing husband. Viva Seifert plays the protagonist and she does so perfectly; her body language, expressions and tone of voice all come together to make you wonder if she’s lying about what she knows…

    Proteus isn’t a title that will appeal to everyone but if you’re in need of a ‘digital holiday’, then here’s your stop. Although the only mechanic is exploration and all you can do is walk, it’s a lovely and calming experience: this procedurally-generated island is home to creatures and ruins with magical properties, and a dynamic soundtrack changes in response to the world around you. A new island is generated each time so you’ll always see something unique and can use the ‘postcard’ feature to capture it.

    What’s next?

    There are loads of indie titles waiting on my wishlist and here’s what I’m playing next. I’ve heard good things about Night in the Woods, an adventure game focused on exploration, story and character. College-dropout Mae returns home to resume her former life but things aren’t the same: it seems different now and everyone has changed. Leaves are falling, the wind is growing cold, strange things are happening and there’s something in the woods…

    Athena from AmbiGaming has been playing RiME recently and she has convinced me to give it a go! You play as a young boy who has awakened on a mysterious island after a torrential storm. Wild animals, long-forgotten ruins and a massive tower beckon you to come closer; and armed with your wits — and the guidance of a helpful fox — you must explore the enigmatic land, reach the tower’s peak and unlock its closely guarded secrets.

    It can be an effort to work up the motivation to turn on the console or PC after a long day at work when you have only a spare hour in the evening; and sometimes the thought of jumping into another 100-hour open-world RPG can be a bit daunting. But it doesn’t mean you have to give up gaming completely because that’s where smaller indie titles can fit in nicely. Although huge big-budget games do have a certain appeal, there’s also something nice about being able to make good progress in sixty minutes and complete a title within several sittings.

    Hopefully you’ve found an indie release among the 23 I’ve listed in my three-part beginner’s guide that has inspired you to give them a try. If you have any other recommendations, please feel free to leave them in the comments below and give me a few more to add to my wishlist!