Our very own House Flipper

*doorbell rings*

Hey, so glad you could make it! How are you doing, did you find it ok? Yeah, it can take an hour or so to get here on the train from London but you get used to it after a while; and I use the time while I’m commuting to get my blog posts written so it all kind of works out. Come on in, don’t just stand there out on the doorstep!

home, hallway, rooms

Please excuse the mess – we’ve been here about a year-and-a-half now and renovations are going slowly. You know what they say about having the money but not the time and vice-versa? That’s exactly the situation we’ve got ourselves here. We’ll get there eventually and you’ll have to come back again once the house is finished.

home, dining room, table, chairs, bench, bookcase

Come through to the kitchen and I’ll get Pete to make you a coffee – Link has come to say hello too. Here’s where we tend to spend most of our time at home when we’re not playing video games. It’s a good place for blogging on weekend mornings, as you can look out over the garden and see the birds or the cats getting up to mischief out there when you’re taking a break.

home, bookcase, books, plant, diving helmet, Rapture sign

We found that diving helmet on one of our trips to the antiques centre at Battlesbridge. It was a bit of an impulse buy but we turned it into a lamp and decided to have a BioShock-themed corner. We’re thinking about getting a water-eroded sign or neon word lights to go down the other end of the kitchen, to finish it off.

home, coffee table, television, shelves, PC, PlayStation, headphones, video games

Finished your coffee? Ok, come on through to the living room and we’ll show you where the PC and PlayStation are currently set up. There’s still a lot of work we need to do in this room so please ignore the wires! We’re planning on this being where we’ll mainly play console games, once the PC is in its new home.

home, staircase, window, cat tree

That’s going to be moved out into the hallway at some point soon because we’ve got a lot of unused space under the stairs, due to this place being a converted bungalow. The staircase was one of the features that convinced us to buy the house; Pete and I both fell in love with it when the estate agents showed us around.

home, hallway, staircase, cat tree

Here’s where the PC will eventually go. It’s a sort of ‘cat playground’ at the moment – yes, that’s what happens when Pete tells you he’s going out to get a scratching post for them! I’m able to work from home and blog regularly, so we’re going to make a desk to go under the stairs to be used as an office and PC-gaming area.

home, picture, LeChuck, Cave of Pixels

The pictures? They’re good, aren’t they? I got them from Cave of Pixels while at the London Gaming Market last year. We’ve got a few other pieces of video-game-artwork that need to go up but figured we should really finish the painting first; we just wanted to get a couple on the walls now to make it look more like home.

home, sofa, cats, Link, Zelda

I know, all this talk about video games is making me want to play them now too! Really? You’d be up for that? Ok then, let’s do this – Pete, grab us some drinks while I dig out the controllers and stick on Overcooked. Now make yourself comfortable on the sofa with the cats (that’s Zelda with the white paws there) because we’ve got burgers to fry!

This post is dedicated to Bandicoot Warrior, who very kindly nominated Later Levels for the Neat Blogger Award in April. Thank you to him for giving me the opportunity to share these photographs and shame us into getting a move on with our renovations (ha ha); we’ll give you an update once our gaming area has been finished!

MCM Comic Con London 2018: a round-up

MCM Comic Con events bring together a broad scope of popular culture categories including gaming, movies, anime, comics and more. My other-half and I have taken my stepson Ethan for the past couple of years now and he always really enjoys it; and last time we even managed to rope Pete into doing a bit of cosplay himself.

Last weekend we made our way to the ExCeL centre in London and immediately noticed how many more people were there this year. We also realised there seemed to be fewer attendees in costume; it now appeared like a more even split between cosplay and casual clothes. It almost felt as though this event which had previously appealed mostly to cosplayers was now focusing its sights on a much larger crowd.

The higher number of attendees gave the venue more of an atmosphere but came with some downsides. The size of the event hadn’t increased along with the ticket sales so not only did this make it harder to get around due to the crowds, it also gave the impression there was less to actually do. Most of the space was dedicated to stand of merchandise of various quality, along with autograph signing and photograph areas.

Speaking of merchandise, Ethan once again came away with several bags under his arm and not much pocket-money left in his wallet: he bought himself a Harry Potter wand, two Funko Pop! figures and a Fortnite t-shirt. I even came away with a little something myself and am now the owner of a ‘cat lady’ t-shirt (because the stepkid charmingly thought it was ‘both funny and true’).

The highlight of the day was seeing Pete’s expression when he realised the person standing behind one of the tables at the convention was Danny John-Jules. He’s from that generation who grew up quoting lines from Red Dwarf and so getting to see the Cat in person was a pretty big deal for him. Pete wouldn’t speak to him and wouldn’t let me take photographs because he was too starstruck – I’ve never seen him get like that before.

Sadly we didn’t do too well with the photographs this year and there aren’t so many in the gallery below. The sheer number of attendees made it harder to spot those in costume and it was difficult to stop people walking through the shot when there was a photo opportunity. As much as Ethan doesn’t look as though he wants to be in any of the pictures, it’s usually him screaming at me to grab the camera as soon as he sees a costume he likes!

Although we had a great afternoon, we’re reconsidering whether to go to the next one in October and may wait until next May instead. Perhaps we’ll have more luck at PLAY Expo in August; and we might also give Rapture, a gaming festival we found out about while at Comic Con, a try in July. Do let us know if you’re going to be at either of those events!

London Comic Con 2018 photo gallery

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Super specific award response

When blogs are nominated for a community award, it’s standard practice for their authors to be asked questions about themselves or their specialist subject. And as regular readers are probably aware, I usually choose to politely eschew from this standard format and instead focus on a single question as the subject for a full-length post dedicated to my kind nominator.

However, that’s pretty difficult when it comes to the Super Specific Sunshine Award from Matt at Normal Happenings. The conundrums he has created for his chosen bloggers are so specific and not-related-to-video-games that it’s impossible not to respond to them in a specific way. So what follows is a post consisting of my ten specific answers – along with a specific thank you to Matt for giving me a chuckle while writing this. Now that’s specific.

Some of the questions are a little lengthy so those below are shortened versions. Head over to Normal Happenings and take a look at this post for the full wording.

1. Text your best friend a potato emoji. What was their reply?

This seemed like the perfect excuse for a little experiment to get inside the minds of my blogger friends. I sent several people the potato and here are their responses, in order of time it took them to reply:

  • Ben: “?”
  • Pete: “Potato?”
  • Jake: “Potato?!”
  • Tim: “It may be that Kim was subconsciously telling us to put potatoes in our slow cooker as we’re making a stew – but no! We shall not! There’s no room for potatoes.”
  • Nathan: *several laughing emojis*

  • 2. What should I name the album? Also, what is the name of my favourite band?

    I had to defer this one to my stepson as I don’t really have a favourite band. And most of those I do like are from the 1980s and therefore so not cool enough to give as an answer to this question. Here’s what Ethan came up with: Clenched Fist by Looking Glass (the boy has even weirder musical tastes than I do).

    3. You can tame any animal as you would a cat or a dog. Which animal will you tame?

    Zelda, cat, laptop, cute

    As boring as it seems, I’d stick with cats! They’re the right mixture of cute, independent and cuddly. Not that we’d want any more pets though because our fluffballs, Link and Zelda, can more than enough of a handful sometimes. In fact, I read a recent news article on mischievous felines and out turns out that domestic long- or shorthair black or black-and-white cats are the most naughty. Send help – we’ve got one of each.

    4. Take one of your favorite quotes, then jumble up the words! Can anyone in your comments reassemble the quote?

    I think this is a fairly obvious one but here goes: “All of us are pretty at it. We’re just all hiding some better, that’s bizarre.” Extra points if you know the source and year without looking it up on Google.

    5. What happened in the last dream you can remember? Tell us all about it in excruciating detail.

    This is a tough one because I don’t usually remember my dreams in any great detail – more just a fleeting memory as I wake up. I occasionally have a recurring dream where I’m trying to find an unknown object in a place full of rooms such as a museum or castle, while being hunted by a monster like a vampire or werewolf. It obviously means something important (perhaps that I’ve been playing video games for too long before bed-time).

    6. What is a unique dish from your region, country, or culture I should try?

    Saturdaes, the dessert I make for my stepson on a Saturday night if we’ve been good and eaten all our dinner (not sundaes on Sunday). The following recipe serves three greedy people:

  • Take a packet of Maltesers and bash lightly with a rolling-pin until they’re crushed
  • Deposit some Malteser-dust into the bottom of a dessert glass
  • Top with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream, then some strawberry sauce and another dashing of Malteser-dust
  • Repeat so you have two lovely ice-cream / sauce / Malteser layers
  • Top with another scoop of ice-cream, some chocolate sauce (the kind that sets), sprinkles and half a Twirl stick
  • Eat as quickly as possible before it melts and end up with sticky hands

  • 7. You get to incorporate a new Olympic sport! What’s your new sport, how will it work, and why?

    Anyone up for the Overcooked Olympics? Counties would pick their most dexterous athletes to compete against each other to serve the most meals correctly in three minutes. Not only is it a real test of mental strength and character to rival any existing sport; it would also be hilarious to watch the competitors crack under the pressure, and try to stifle a swear-word or two as they realise they’re live on television across the world.

    8. What is the most dangerous lyric in a pop song, if it is taken literally?

    I’m almost certain it was a death-wish she had rather than a desire for a little-bit-of-loving when Joan Armatrading sang Drop The Pilot back in 1983 (see, I told you I like 80s music). Picture it: you wouldn’t be able to go anywhere without a pilot or plane falling on you. And then to top it all off, a monkey would land on your head – talk about making a bad day just that bit worse.

    9. Which of Matt’s limited superpowers would choose and why?

    I think I’d choose being able to freeze time for one minute. After a bit of practice, I could use my superpower during lengthy meetings with my boss and it would give me just enough of a chance to wind the clock in the room forward. He’d then think he was late for his next appointment and would need to leave quickly; and I’d actually be able to get some worthwhile work done, rather than listening to him go on about how important he is. Sorted.

    10. Self-referential numerical value survey question: are my super specific questions weird?

    I’d go for the seven to eight score – “Yeah, you’re getting up there on the weirdness scale.” Everyone has room in their lives for a little more strange, right?

    Thank you to Matt once again – I hope that was specific enough for you! What would your super specific answers be?

    Lost in space with J.U.L.I.A.

    During a lazy week off work last month, I decided clear a few entries from my Steam backlog. I was in the mood for something with a science-fiction feel so J.U.L.I.A.: Among the Stars was one of my picks. It was a title I’d picked up some months ago as part of a sale after seeing how many good reviews it had garnered.

    Here’s the setting: after countless years of exploration, humans finally found a solar system similar to our own from the middle of which was coming a signal of artificial origin. A mission plan was formed and a massive space probe constructed, designed and equipped to be ideally suited for meeting and studying extraterrestrial sentient life-forms. Equal care was taken with the crew; only the most prominent scientists were selected and trained to represent Earth.

    Unfortunately though, something has now gone terribly wrong. Rachel Manners has been woken from decades of cryogenic sleep to be told by the ship’s artificial intelligence (AI) that she’s the last surviving crew member. As if the day couldn’t get any worse, the probe is also severely damaged by a disastrous impact with a passing meteoroid swarm; so it’s up to her to first make repairs to ensure her own survival, before finding out what happened to everybody else.

    Once all the immediate fires have been put out, the player steps into Rachel’s shoes (spacesuit?) but doesn’t control her directly. Instead, the game is played through a series of computer interfaces and a reconnaissance robot for planetary exploration called MOBOT. Together with the ship’s AI they travel to six unique planets to uncover their secrets and find out what happened there, battling with puzzles and ship upgrades – as well as a few alien strangers, not all of whom are friendly.

    I got the weirdest sensation after playing J.U.L.I.A. for several hours: it was almost as if I was sitting down in front of my PC and playing Myst again for the first time. This seemed strange as the games’ settings completely different but then I realised I was stepping into unknown. Taking that first step into new worlds, confronted with strange contraptions and mysterious structures… maybe Cyan’s 1993 classic and CBE Software’s 2014 release aren’t so dissimilar after all.

    After nine hours and just as I was thinking that I may have found a new entry for my favourites list, disaster struck – not a meteoroid shower this time, a game-breaking bug. It was something a number of people had reported via the Steam discussions page as recently as last year. Just as I tried to lure a glowing underwater alien into a cupboard so I could safely make my way across the submarine, it would weirdly disappear and leave me unable to move any further.

    I’ve reached out to the developer and have sent them my save file in the hope there’s something they’ll be able to do to rectify this situation. I’ve not yet heard from them though, but I’m assuming this is because they’re busy working on their next game. The trailer for Someday You’ll Return looks as creepy as hell, the website teases that your search leads deep into ancient Moravian forests and reveals secrets that should have stayed buried – and it has already been added to my wishlist.

    I can’t tell you how much I hope CBE’s get in touch with an amended save file soon because I really want to be able to complete J.U.L.I.A. and find out what happens to Rachel. I know I could simply watch the remainder of the title via a longplay video but it just won’t be the same: I want to explore the stars and beautiful planets with MOBOT for myself, rather than simply watching someone else have all the fun doing it.

    If you happen to have a safe file, please do get in touch – I’d be eternally grateful and forever in your debt! Hopefully I won’t be lost in space for too long…

    Playing favourites

    I recently came across a post by THE LDG MAG about Alice: Madness Returns. It revealed how the game is based is the novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which itself was possibly inspired by the real-life Alice Liddell. The article is an interesting piece on author Lewis Carroll’s fascination with the girl and Victorian views on children.

    The subject matter was interesting in itself but it was the first paragraph which really caught my eye and inspired me to write. THE LDG MAG’s post began: “Surprise, surprise. This post is about one of my favourite games. I swear I have too many favourite games. Although is there such a thing as a ‘favourite game’? I think there isn’t. There are too many games out there that it makes it literally impossible to narrow it down to just one.”

    It’s an intriguing question and one which got me thinking. According to Google, the definition of the word ‘favourite’ is ‘a person or thing that is preferred to all others of the same kind or is especially well liked’. Does this mean that to have a favourite video game is to recognise a single title as standing out for us personally over all other releases? And is that even possible, when there’s a constant stream of new releases to play all the time?

    Ask me at different times and my pick will change according to what I’m doing or my mood. If I’m feeling nostalgic or sentimental, The Secret of Monkey Island is the answer I’d give. If it’s Christmas and I’m on a fairytale vibe, it’s more likely to be Fable II. Then if we’re talking about titles with a bit of action, I’d probably name BioShock or The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. And then if I’m after an engrossing story, either The Longest Journey or To The Moon are the games I’d turn to.

    It seems as though I’m not the only one who doesn’t have a single favourite. When I posed the question ‘is it possible to have a favourite video game?’, Ian from Adventure Rules said on Twitter: “I feel like having a favorite game is so subject to current moods that it’s really hard to narrow down a single one. Zelda is my favorite… except when there’s a new Fire Emblem about to come out, or I’m feeling nostalgic about Paper Mario, etc.”

    Athena from AmbiGaming said: “Dragon Age: Origins is always my favorite game. And Metal Gear Solid 2 is always my second-favorite game. But I agree. For me, Origins is in a separate category, and then other games cycle depending on things like mood and how enthusiastic I am about what I’m playing.” And THE LDG MAG themselves replied: “For some people [it’s possible to have a favourite video game]. For me personally, it changes constantly (because I’m so indecisive).”

    One of the things I love most about video games is the variety. Back when I was a kid, the most we had to look forward to was a new pixelated platformer every few months, and that was when we were finally able to persuade our parents to take us to the store. Instead we now enjoy entries in a wide range of genres, which tell all sorts of amazing tales (or not), and feature diverse characters with colourful backgrounds and powerful motives.

    Obviously there are always going to be types of releases which appeal to us more than others because of our preferences – it’s the adventure genre for me because I enjoy strong narratives and puzzles. But each title can speak to in a different way and teach us something new about the world or ourselves. There’s a video game out there for absolutely everybody and each has the potential to be somebody’s favourite.

    So why limit ourselves to just one when there’s so much choice available? Keeping an open mind can lead to interesting discoveries and titles you may not otherwise have played; and who knows, they might just leave a lasting impression on you.

    A blog in the sun

    Let me start by wishing everyone who has nominated Later Levels for an award a big thank you. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some very lovely and talented people over the past year. The WordPress community is great to be a part of and there’s a place here for everybody.

    Usually when an award is received, I like to show my gratitude by focusing on one of the questions posed by the nominator and create an entire post around it dedicated to them. But every now and again, I prefer to mix it up a little bit by answering all of the challenges set – and as Calum from Read This Stance has been so sweet in putting Later Levels forward for Sunshine Blogger, that’s what I’m going to do today.

    Hold on to your controllers, it’s going to be a bumpy ride…

    1. If you had to play one game for the rest of your life, what would it be?

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

    Funnily enough, this was a question also asked by Strange Girl Gaming as part of her own Sunshine Blogger award so these guys clearly have good taste. I answered it in a post last week and I can honestly say it’s one of the hardest conundrums I’ve faced: how on earth can you narrow it down to just one video game when there’s so much variety? I managed to reduce the list to two and couldn’t decide between them, and neither are the title you’re probably thinking I’d choose.

    2. If you had to kill off one of your favourite video game characters, who would it be and why?

    This is tough because I’m not sure I have any favourite characters, although there are plenty who have taught me something new and inspired me to become a better person (the subject of a post written for Joey from AlunaRL back in January) I think I’m going to have the same answer for this challenge as for number ten below: mainly because he’s already dead and therefore gives me a nice way to avoid the question (wink wink).

    3. What do you find the most rewarding aspect of blogging to be?

    It’s hard to narrow down just one answer to this question! Firstly, blogging gives me a creative outlet completely different to my IT job where every day in the office is about processes, data and logic. Secondly, it’s satisfying when you realise your writing is gradually improving and you become more confident to put your thoughts into words. And thirdly, it’s the bloggers around you; this leads me on nicely to the next challenge…

    4. What is your proudest achievement in blogging?

    Rezzed, SpecialEffect, Ben, Kim, Pete

    I can honestly say it’s the people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and the friends I’ve made. If you told me five years ago that most of my real-life friends would now be individuals I started talking to because of blogging, I’m not sure I’d have believed you! It has brought me into contact with people I may not have otherwise had the chance to get to know, and it’s lovely hanging out with them in real-life and playing a few video games.

    5. What is your favourite genre of game?

    To regular Later Levels visitors, I guess it’s obvious: I’m a sucker for a good adventure, particularly a point-and-click. The Secret of Monkey Island was the first game I ever played for myself and the genre has stuck with me since. I love the classics (take a look at this post for a few recommendations) and am even partial to a spot of pixel-hunting, inventory-combining, illogical-puzzle-solving and conversation-tree-navigation.

    6. If you could set up an office to blog from anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

    Birmingham in the UK. Not the most exotic of answers but the city has a certain vibe which makes this Essex girl love being there. The NEC is home to EGX and Insomnia, plus the Birmingham edition of Comic Con, so I wouldn’t have to travel too far to access some great events. Plus there’s Cadbury World around the corner for whenever I needed a chocolate fix; and plenty of great restaurants in the city centre so I wouldn’t go hungry.

    7. What’s the worst movie you’ve ever seen?

    I don’t tend to watch a lot of films – it’s weird how I struggle to sit still during an entire movie but can do so easily for several hours on end when I’m playing a video game. But if I had to choose one, I’d probably go for the time that my other-half made me watch Sharknado because he knew it was bad and cruelly wanted to see my reaction. Or the year when my stepson wanted us to watch Rango with him every weekend.

    8. What is the best band or artist you’ve seen perform live?

    A few years ago, I went with a festival with friends and we managed to push our way to the stage while Aerosmith were playing. And damn, has Steven Tyler got charisma – the way he commanded the audience was amazing. Alternatively, Tony Hadley from Spandau Ballet appeared at an 80s weekend we went to recently and he’s still got it; his voice sounds exactly the same as it does on the radio, and he seems like a really down-to-earth guy.

    9. If you could have a sidekick companion from any game, who would you choose and why?

    Murray from the Monkey Island series is one skull who’s got his s**t together and is going places, and we could learn a few life lessons from him. He may have had his skeletal-body blown to pieces but did he let that stop him? No. He 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 considers himself an object of pure evil showing that sometimes all you need is a positive mental attitude.

    10. Who is the most misunderstood enemy or boss in gaming?

    Following on from the answer above, I’d have to say LeChuck from the Monkey Island series too. Everything he did was out of love and for a woman who didn’t return his feelings; and this brought about his untimely (initial) demise, when he wanted to find ‘the secret’ in order to prove to Elaine just how much he adored her. In fact, this subject would make for a great post… so let’s stop writing there and save it for next time.

    11. Nintendo or Sega?

    When we were kids, I had a Game Boy while my brother had a Game Gear so we were on opposite sides of the argument. I spent hours playing Tetris, Looney Toons and Caesars Palace (weirdly); but I’d also steal his handheld so I could play Outrun and Castle of Illusion. Back then I would have given you an answer of ‘both’, but as an adult I’d have to say ‘neither’ because I’m not a big fan of the games produced the developers right now.

    And on that shocking cliff-hanger, we’ll bring this post to a close! Thank you to Calum from Read This Stance again for the award nomination and choosing some really good questions of me to ponder over. The one I’d like to hear most about from others is number ten: which boss do you think is the most misunderstood in gaming?