Blogger Blitz 2018: a thank you

And with the final result published on Adventure Rules yesterday, that’s the second Blogger Blitz event done. The past few months have been a rollercoaster of excitement, nervousness and anticipation for everyone involved in the competition. It’s sad it’s all over for now but at least we can finally take some time out to catch our breath!

Before I do so however, I’d like to wish a huge congratulations to Michael from Git Gud at Life for being this year’s winner. I had my doubts when he decided to enter the event with a character like Frank Fontaine from BioShock; after all, he has no special weapons or powers as such and could potentially be seen as underpowered when compared to some of the other challengers. But he proved us all wrong with some excellent post formats and plot-twists and deserves a massive round of applause.

Teri Mae from Sheikah Plate and her sidekick Ganondorf were worthy competitors and didn’t make it easy for Fontaine however. It’s been lovely to see this blogger’s writing style develop in confidence of the course of Blogger Blitz and knowing how modest she is, I’m sure she doesn’t realise just how good her fiction is! She may not have come out on top but making it to the championship match two years in a row shouldn’t be underestimated: hopefully one day we’ll get to find out how her villain’s story ends.

I’d also like to say a big thank you and send plenty of hugs to everyone who took part, along with my fellow judges. Having the opportunity to participate in the event and enjoy reading all the entries, as well as working with these excellent people and getting to know them better, has been an absolute honour. I’d highly recommend signing up as either a competitor or judge if Blogger Blitz comes back for third year in 2019 (and let’s all hope it does); it requires effort but you honestly won’t regret it.

Blogger Blitz, Black Sheep, Ian, Adventure Rules

There’s someone else who deserves a mention too and it just so happens that he’s one of my favourite people on the internet. In the time since Later Levels started, Ian has been one of the most encouraging and supportive bloggers I’ve had the chance to meet; always there with a friendly comment, a cheery outlook and a word of advice when it’s needed. He’s had a lot going on recently and it hasn’t always been easy but he should be extremely proud of what he’s achieved with Adventure Rules.

New and old writers alike can learn a thing or two from this man. I love how he’s bringing the community together through Blogger Blitz, giving everyone the opportunity to meet new bloggers, inspiring a bit of friendly competition while celebrating our hobbies. It’s this kind of event that puts the positivity here on display and show just how welcoming our group is. I’m really glad I’ve been able to be involved once again – and even gladder I’m able to call Ian a friend.

In fact, Chris from OverThinker Y and I have become partners-in-crime in honour of this year’s Black Sheep twist and we have a little something up our sleeves to say thank you to Ian. We wanted to show him our appreciated for all the hard work he puts into his events and we think we may have come up with the perfect way to do that. We’re still in the planning stages at the moment however, so stay turned and keep your eyes peeled for more details coming over the next month or so…

And with that, we say goodbye to Blogger Blitz 2018. What a wonderful time it has been.

EGX 2018: 3 Minutes to Midnight

It’s obvious from all the adventure game posts published on Later Levels that I’m a big fan of the genre. So when fellow enthusiast nufafitc over at Emotional Multimedia Ride returned from his recent trip to Gamescom in August and recommended I take a look at upcoming point-and-click 3 Minutes to Midnight by Scarecrow Studio right away, my interest was piqued.

It was fortuitous then that the title was set to appear at this year’s EGX and we made it our second stop at the event after playing the latest version of Flotsam. What we saw in the playable demo was a game that has the potential to contain an awful lot to appeal to adventure lovers who have a fondness for the classics. As written by nufafitc in his post: “If meeting a girl with twitching eyes, three different voices, and holding a machete in her hands is any indication, then this should be a crazy ride soon.”

The story is set in the roaring 40s and starts when plucky teenager Betty Anderson is woken by an explosion in the night. Whatever blew up in the dessert has wiped her memory clean but she has a lot more to worry about than amnesia: a town full of people who aren’t what they seem, a corrupt mayor, a secret military base, the mafia and a potbelly pig with a vendetta. And then there’s just the small problem of a doomsday plot counting down to the extinction of the human race.

If this sounds like it could be a plot straight from a LucasArts game, you wouldn’t be wrong. It’s not surprising then that 3 Minutes to Midnight is inspired by traditional adventures like such as The Secret of Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle and Sam & Max Hit the Road. The developers say their project combines point-and-click gameplay and the absurdist humour of the ‘good old days’ with high-definition cartoon art, an intuitive interface and a compelling mystery.

We did indeed bump into the girl with the machete mentioned by nufafitc during the section we played at EGX and our objective was to convince her to hand over a key. One of her personalities however wasn’t too trusting of us and so we had to complete several tasks to prove ourselves – including cleaning the latrine (nice) – which involved picking up objects in the environment, turning them into other things and combining them in our inventory. Oh, and talking to a disgruntled raccoon who wouldn’t share his dinner.

We didn’t come across anything too illogical and there were a couple of moments of trial-and-error which didn’t feel out of place. If this is any indication of what the rest of 3 Minutes to Midnight will be like then we could be in for something which hits the sweet-spot when it comes to the level of challenge. The title features the simplified control scheme we’ve come to expect nowadays, with a left-click to move Betty, interact with objects and talk with people (and raccoons) and a right-click to examine items more closely.

EGX, video games, 3 Minutes to Midnight,

In the promotional material we were given by Pavlina Kacerova, it mentions that gamers will be able to play as both Betty and Mayor Eliza Barrett. Protagonist-switching isn’t something I usually enjoy in my adventures and is the reason I could never get into Maniac Mansion; but I’ll withhold judgement on this until the game is finished. What does intrigue me however is the fact it contains over 40 other characters each with their own backstory, so you can scratch the surface to get just the information you need or go further and find out who they truly are.

The other thing I don’t normally like are cartoon visuals and if it hadn’t have been for nufafitc’s recommendation, there’s a chance I might have passed this game by. That would have been a mistake because I actually ended up being surprised at how much I liked 3 Minutes to Midnight’s graphics. At first glance they appear rather simple, but as you become absorbed by the gameplay you start to notice the level of detail contained within them. The colour, gradients and textures make the environments a pleasure to explore.

Scarecrow Studio are looking to announce a Kickstarter campaign for their project early next year to meet a mid-2019 release date. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on a game which inspires both nostalgia and fresh mysteries, so they’ve already got their first backer lined up.

EGX 2018: Flotsam

When my other-half and I attended Rezzed in April last year, I didn’t expect him to choose Flotsam as one of his favourite titles at the show. It’s not the sort of thing he’d usually play; but somehow this unassuming ‘floating garbage town survival game’ had spoken to him above all the noise and bright lights at the other stands and managed to catch his attention.

We hadn’t heard much about Pajama Llama Games’ project since and so it was therefore a nice surprise to see it at this year’s EGX. It was out on the show floor this time instead of being tucked away in the Leftfield Collection and, as most attendees seemed to make a rush to get in the queues for the big-budget games as soon as the doors opened, we had the area mostly to ourselves. We therefore got to enjoy the new demo in relative peace with Co-Founder and Artist Juda-Ben Gordier kindly chatting to us.

EGX, video games, Flotsam, Pete

The idea behind Flotsam originated when the Pajama Llama team decided they wanted to make a video game and took inspiration from an animated short about people living in a flooded world made by one of their artists. They threw it into a prototype and this eventually formed into a title where players must scavenge whatever debris they can from the ocean’s surface, use it to grow their floating city and do their best to survive on a watery post-apocalyptic planet.

Fortunately the flooded environment offers all kinds of relics from the old world to recycle and you’ll find wood, plastic and metal bobbing along on the waves. These remains can be transformed into boats and buildings to allow you to collect rainwater, hunt for various creatures and reel up scrap from the sea floor. Your community of ‘drifters’ will assist you by taking on the various priorities assigned to them but you’ll need to gather fish and drinkable water in order to keep them going.

It’s clear a lot of work has been completed since we last saw Flotsam almost 18 months ago and while it’s still recognisable, the depth of the game has expanded. A new aspect added recently is wind and currents. Juda-Ben helpfully explained that the remains of broken ships now gradually float towards your ‘Townheart’ so you can cleverly use the waves to your advantage, and eventually you’ll be able to build a sail and anchor for your city to move faster in the direction you wish to explore in.

With our overuse of plastic and its impact on the environment being a hot topic in the news recently, Flotsam’s arrival seems very well timed to deliver an important message. In an interview with Gamesauce back in September last year, Artist Stan Loiseaux revealed: “The environmental message is something which came naturally when working with a flooded world based on the world we live in. We’re now really pushing the recycling and environmental message it has because of this.”

EGX, video games, Flotsam, Pete

I have to say that Pajama Llama’s version of the end of the world looks so inviting and I’m almost ready to go grab my swimsuit. This is down to what they’re referring to as a ‘feel-good apocalypse’ vibe: it’s light-hearted and quirky, and little animations seen when you zoom in give sense the drifters enjoy living in this world despite its harsh conditions. The title’s unique cell-shaded art style gives the game a huge amount of character and it’s hard not to stare at the water to see what you can discover beneath the waves.

All is not as peaceful as it seems though as everything is trying to eat you or sink your town to the depths of the sea. On your journey you’ll encounter dangerous animals, visitors with unknown intentions and mysterious ruins, so you’ll need to decide which obstacles to deal with and which to avoid completely. When I noticed the addition of a whale and asked Juda-Ben whether he would end up damaging our city at some point, he smiled and replied with a cryptic ‘Maybe.’

As I mentioned above, Flotsam isn’t the kind of game my other-half would usually be drawn to but I can understand why he’s attracted to it. A few years back we got into the habit of playing Guild of Dungeoneering in the evenings after work because it was so easy to dip into for an hour or so when we had limited time available. This exactly the feeling I got from Pajama Llama’s project: I can see us picking it up to gather a few more resources, check on the new building our drifters are creating, or find out what’s just over in the distance.

Juda-Ben told us that the title is likely to be released in Early Access in January and the Steam page is already up so you can add it to your wishlist. In the meantime, follow Pajama Llama Games on Twitter and Facebook to stay up to date on their progress.

EGX 2018: Twin Mirror

As mentioned in yesterday’s round-up post, I was disappointed that the organisers had taken the decision to move the Rezzed sessions out of the main hall at this year’s EGX. I’ve always found these talks to be some of the most interesting at the event.

The developer sessions however remained in the main area but were unfortunately tucked into a corner over at the far back of the hall that I wouldn’t be surprised if many attendees ended up missing them completely. There was one presentation I did want to make a point of seeing however, and as a result my other-half and I made it our mission to seek out the EGX Theatre in the afternoon of our visit to watch DONTNOD Entertainment share more about their upcoming psychological-thriller Twin Mirror.

The game’s story begins in Basswood, West Virginia, where 33-year old Samuel Higgs has sadly returned to attend the funeral of his best friend. Things take a turn for the worse when he wakes up in his hotel room the next day to find his shirt covered in blood and no memory of the previous night. It’s up to Sam to recall his memories and search for disparate clues throughout the town to find the truth in this mysterious investigation; it’s set to be a dark and emotional adventure where the line between truth and deception is blurred.

In an announcement published on the PlayStation Blog back in June, publisher Bandai Namco Entertainment revealed that Twin Mirror is going to be ‘a compelling journey that explores the elements of choice and hypocrisy, while paving a players’ way toward the conclusion of their investigation.’ Your decisions will have an impact: truth, duality and polarity will all become factors as Sam’s future is dictated through the choices made while investigating the place he used to call home.

As you may have already guessed already, the protagonist isn’t your standard hero and this is one of the reasons I’ve been drawn to DONTNOD’s project. Art Director Pierre-Etienne Travers said in his developer session: “Sam is broken. It’s really hard for him to come back… [He] is a bit lost. He [doesn’t] really know what to do. He is an adult but no-one told him it was time to grow up. So as you explore Basswood you will try to find a place in this universe as a player for Sam.”

An aspect of Sam’s duality is his mind palace, an inner world he created to be an escape from reality as a child. It’s a place that blends memories with logical extrapolation where he can perfectly recreate real-world scenarios to better understand them, making it the perfect tool for solving puzzles and uncovering the truth. By investigating his hotel room and using his mind palace to reconstruct his activities from the night before, he might be able to fill in the blanks and figure out what happened.

However, Sam isn’t alone and there’s someone who wants to weigh in on his investigation: The Double. Travers continued his presentation by revealing: “The Double is another part of [his personality]. He will always be there, giving him advice and choices, and as a player sometimes we have to choose between the way of Sam or the way of The Double… He isn’t evil and he isn’t good; he’s just one aspect Sam’s personality that he can’t express to others so he’s more eccentric and he’s funny at some points.”

At first the developers went down the route of making a ‘badass’ version of the protagonist but then decided this wasn’t the right the direction. Instead, they had Sam create this ‘character’ when he was younger and The Double is therefore his idea of what he’d look like as a successful man but in a childish way. It should be noted however that this is nothing to do with mental health or the supernatural, and I find it incredibly intriguing for a video game; after all, don’t we all have an image of what our perfect selves would be like in our heads?

There’s much more at stake in Basswood than just a forgotten evening and although it will be a tough journey for him, it might just be what Sam needs to finally heal the wounds of the past and move forward. There’s only one truth and his mind is the only place you’ll find it. As said by Travers at EGX: “Twin Mirror is not a game about saving the world but, I would say, it’s more a game about saving yourself.”

This episodic adventure is coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC in 2019.

EGX 2018: a round-up

This year’s EGX took place at the NEC Birmingham from 20 to 23 September 2018. Someone please remind me in 2019 that it’s not a good idea to schedule a blog party, volunteering duty, an expo with a seven-hour round-trip and an all-day stream in the same week!

I entered EGX event feeling a little tired after the ESI Super Forum the previous day and knowing that we had to hit the Ubisoft section first thing in order to get a chance to play Tom Clancy’s The Division 2. I’d promised my other-half we’d do this as having an under-18 in tow at Insomnia63 last month meant he wasn’t able to play it there; and he’d been good enough to patiently queue up for an hour for Detroit: Become Human at last year’s event, so I couldn’t really say no.

As soon as we arrived at the stand though the queue time already stood at two hours and despite checking back several times, it never really got below this. It was the same for many of the other big-budget areas in the exhibition hall: the line of gamers beside them never seemed to subside. This, combined with the fact that there appeared to be more space dedicated to triple-A titles this year, created an atmosphere which was quieter than in 2018 because many attendees chose to dedicate their day to waiting for a particular title.

This had its positives though: the smaller indie section at the front of the exhibition hall felt more open and was easier to move around in. We had a good chat with Pajama Llama Games Co-Founder and Artist Juda-Ben Gordier about how far Flotsam had come since we first played it at Rezzed last year; I spent quite a long time playing through a section of point-and-click 3 Minutes to Midnight by Scarecrow Studio; and The Bradwell Conspiracy by A Brave Plan looks like exactly the sort of thing my other-half and I would enjoy.

This year, EGX’s organisers had taken the decision to move the Rezzed sessions area outside of the main hall. Personally I don’t think this worked particularly well: the room wasn’t well sign-posted so I’m unsure many people found their way there and there were plenty of empty seats when we went to take a look. In addition, the schedule wasn’t updated on the mobile app and then appeared to have been removed completely so we weren’t even aware of the talks being held. It’s a shame because they’re usually some of the most interesting.

The chill-out space dedicated to the event’s recently-announced partnership with CheckPoint and Gaming the Mind had also been placed outside the main hall and suffered the same fate. This was incredibly disappointing because EGX would have been the perfect opportunity to promote mental-health awareness and advocating the use of video games for good. We stopped by the room to meet the team and I’ll be signing up as a volunteer once I complete my mental-health first-aider course in January.

Despite the long queues and apparent absence of the Rezzed sessions and chill-out space, the expo was still fun event it always is and we’ll definitely attend again next year. Make sure you visit geeksleeprinserepeat, That Green Dude and Upon Completion this week as these guys were also there and I’m sure they’ll be bringing you some awesome content about what they got up to.

Next up is Comic Con at the ExCeL London where I’ll be volunteering on the SpecialEffect stand once again, so if you’re there on 26 October 2018 please do stop by and say hello! In the meantime, you can find our photos from EGX in the gallery below and there’ll be further posts about some of the games we played there coming this week.

EGX 2018 photo gallery

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GameBlast19: are you game?

On Friday I wrote about my time volunteering for SpecialEffect last week, an amazing charity which puts fun and inclusion back into the lives of people with physical disabilities by helping them to play video games. They’re bringing families and friends together and having a positive impact on therapy, confidence and rehabilitation.

GameBlast is their annual gaming marathon where gamers from all over the UK come together to raise funds and awareness for SpecialEffect so they can continue their excellent work. Now in its fifth year, over £700,000 has been raised the events so far and this amount has helped to change the lives of hundreds of people with disabilities who could previously only watch everyone else have all the enjoyment.

I’ve participated in GameBlast four times now and as well as being for a good cause, it’s always a hell of lot of fun. In February this year Pete, Ben, Nathan and myself completed a non-stop 24-hour gaming session live on both the Later Levels and SpecialEffect Twitch channels, playing games such as Hidden Agenda and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR. By the end of it we were going crazy from lack of sleep and caffeine overdoses but managing to raise over £550 – thanks to the help of you awesome lot – made it all worthwhile.

In previous years I’ve participated for 48-hours with a team of four people taking two six-hour shifts each; and 72-hours with a team of 11 working remotely in a four-hour rota. A larger group seems like a good idea as it means you can stream for longer but it does come with some challenges that need to be carefully planned for. There have been a few times when technical difficulties have meant others have had to step in at short notice, including when someone started falling asleep on camera!

Registration for GameBlast19 isn’t yet open but my thoughts are already turning to what we’re going to do for 2019’s event. How long should our marathon last for; how many people should our team consist of; should we stream remotely or from the same location? And perhaps most importantly, what sort of games should we play?! While 22-24 February 2019 seems like a long way away just yet, there’s a lot of coordination to do during the next five months and so it’s time to start getting organised.

I’m looking for inspiration: if you have any ideas or suggestions, please do leave them in the comments below! And if you’d be interested in joining us and being a member of our dream-stream-team for GameBlast next year, get in touch so we can get some plans on the go. Hopefully I’ll have made some progress this time in October so I’ll be able to give you all an update…